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Honig Criticizes State Tax Rebate as 'Major Mistake'

September 15, 1987|JESS BRAVIN | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — As the governor and many legislators congratulated themselves over negotiating a state tax rebate, Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig on Monday condemned the plan as "a major mistake," predicting that he and Gov. George Deukmejian will have an "honest confrontation" over the state spending limit when they meet Thursday for the first time in six months.

"We're going to regret it," Honig said of the hard-fought rebate agreement, in which Democratic leaders reluctantly went along with Deukmejian's demand that the state's $1.1-billion budget surplus be returned to taxpayers rather than spent on public schools or local government services.

"It means we're taking $150,000 out of every school to give people a $50, $30, $75 rebate. Californians are not for that," Honig said. "In the future, we'll still have to deal with the effects of those cutbacks," he said, listing schools, roads and health care as public services that would suffer because of the rebate.

Since he was sworn in for his second term in January, Honig has been campaigning for a loosening of the constitutional spending limit approved by voters in 1979.

He said volunteers began last week to collect signatures for a proposed June, 1988, ballot initiative that would link state budget increases to the growth of personal income rather than to the inflation rate as the spending limit requires. Such a tie would permit higher budgets because personal income has grown more quickly than the inflation rate in recent years.

Republicans and Democrats had differed over the disposition of the surplus funds, with Deukmejian insisting that the money be returned to taxpayers while legislative leaders such as Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) argued that the Gann spending limit allowed the funds to be distributed to school districts and local governments.

Under the rebate measure, passed by the Legislature last week and awaiting Deukmejian's signature, Californians who submitted 1986 tax returns will receive checks equal, in most cases, to 15% of the amount they paid in state taxes, with a minimum rebate of $32 and a maximum of $118 for single filers.

Speaking to reporters before a meeting with arts educators, the superintendent criticized Deukmejian and the Legislature for agreeing to the rebate and said that without a loosening of the spending limit, similar budget battles would be fought each year.

"Politics isn't perfect. We give people power for four years and they may make mistakes," Honig said. "This Gann limitation is going to force us to do this each year until we correct it and bring the measure of growth (in state spending) up to what the actual economic growth is in the state," he said.

Honig's criticism of the rebate--a top Deukmejian priority of the legislative session--comes days before the superintendent and the governor are scheduled to meet for the first time since February.

The two officers have been feuding since January when Honig blasted the governor's proposed budget as a "disaster" for education, prompting Deukmejian to belittle the superintendent as a "snake oil" salesman engaging in "demagoguery."

The schools chief said he thought that the scheduled Thursday meeting, arranged at Deukmejian's invitation, suggested that the governor "is approaching (their differences) in a much more civil vein," he said.

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