SACRAMENTO — Orange County highway construction projects, parks and educational institutions would get a major boost from funding proposed in Gov. George Deukmejian's budget for next fiscal year, officials said Thursday.
The Republican governor's $44.3-billion spending plan, which was unveiled Thursday, includes money to fully staff the new Caltrans district office in Orange County. That move would be expected to speed construction of several projects that planners hope eventually will unclog the county's traffic-choked highway system.
60 More Staff Members
In all, 60 additional staff members would be provided for the new Caltrans office, on top of the 580 employees already headed to the county.
The proposed budget, which faces six months of revisions and legislative hearings, also includes a nearly $1-billion funding increase for California schools, grades kindergarten through 12. That funding prompted a sigh of relief from county school administrators still weary from last year's long and bitter battle over the education budget.
The governor's plan also contains about $3 million for improvements at two state parks in the county and millions more for planning and construction at UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and three of the county's community college campuses.
Keith McKean, director of Caltrans' Orange County office, said he was pleased by the governor's decision to try to bring the office up to speed.
"Now I've got something to work with here in Orange County," he said.
Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) said the money proposed by the governor, in the long run, will "finally free Orange County from being in the shadow of Los Angeles." He added, however, that it will take some time for the move to have a real impact on freeway congestion and that, for the near future, "I don't think Orange County commuters will notice the difference."
In fact, Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) said, local freeway traffic will probably get worse before it gets any better.
"That's one of the problems we'll be getting from so much construction," Bergeson said. "Until some of these projects are completed, people are going to get more frustrated. Construction always means inconvenience."
Bergeson said she expected the extra staff to cut delays in delivery of the state's major priorities for Orange County, which include widening the Santa Ana and San Diego freeways. The former teacher and school board member also praised Deukmejian's decision to provide $977 million in new money for the education of students in grades kindergarten through 12.
"There is no question that the education portion of the budget is its strongest point," she said.
Local educators, who had yet to see the details of Deukmejian's proposal, were cautiously optimistic about its impact.
"My immediate reaction is positive," said Pat Browning, associate superintendent for business services in the Santa Ana Unified School District, the county's largest school district.
'Fair Share' for Schools
Garden Grove Unified Supt. Ed Dundon said he was satisfied from early reports that schools would get their "fair share" under the proposed budget.
"We can't have everything," he said. "We have highways and transportation and all that to be taken care of."
Dundon said he was especially pleased with the apparent move by Deukmejian and state schools Supt. Bill Honig to patch up their differences after last year's bitter budget battle.
"That could be the most important thing," Dundon said. "If those two have cleared their lines of communication, that could be more important than the actual dollars."
Others said the budget increase, while welcome, would do little more than allow schools to keep pace with enrollment growth and inflation.
"The money is appreciated, of course, but it comes after a very slim year last year," said Fred Koch, deputy superintendent of the Orange County Department of Education.
John Ikerd, superintendent of the Orange Unified School District, said the money would be "a shot in the right direction, but apparently no big gain. . . . Last year, we didn't get enough to keep abreast, and we started falling behind. This budget this year seems to be a slight gain."
Chino Hills State Park
As for Orange County parks, the governor's budget includes $2.3 million for development of facilities at Chino Hills State Park and another $622,000 for projects at Crystal Cove State Park.
The money for Chino Hills would go toward installation of utilities, roads, erosion control, picnic sites, an equestrian trail head and sites for employees' mobile homes. At Crystal Cove, the funds would pay for development of an underwater park, a visitor center, 90 picnic tables and an erosion control project.
UC Irvine was allocated about $6.5 million under the proposal for equipment for its new physical science building, renovation of a biology building, construction of a consolidated science library and campus road improvements, including a new south entrance.