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Democrats Consider a Budget Ploy : Politics: Speaker says his party may try to outflank the governor by passing the spending package early but delaying action on legislation needed to make it work.


SACRAMENTO — Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown said Tuesday that his party is seriously considering approving Gov. Pete Wilson's budget--possibly with only minor changes--and returning it to the Republican chief executive well before the June 15 constitutional deadline.

But Brown said the Democrats would delay until later in the year any action on separate legislation needed to enact a series of health and welfare cuts Wilson says are necessary to keep his budget balanced.

Brown's comments to reporters in the Capitol reflected the Democrats' fear that Wilson has set them up for a public relations fiasco by proposing a $60.2-billion budget that fully funds expected growth in public education but calls for more than $1 billion in cuts to social programs that serve the poor.

"I just don't want to be hung out there on the so-called budget document," Brown said. "You're not going to be able to write every week, every day: 'Day 1--No budget, Day 2--No budget.' He is going to get a budget."

If Wilson were to sign such a spending plan, it would remain balanced only if he could also win legislative approval for his proposal to reduce welfare grants by as much as 25% and eliminate a number of health services that the state now provides to the poor, including chiropractic care, podiatry and acupuncture, as well as dental care for adults.

Without separate legislative action, those benefits would remain at their current levels even though the budget itself would not include enough money to pay for them for an entire year. Presumably, sometime next spring, the money would run out. At that time, Brown said, a court probably would force the state to find funds to keep the payments going.

Brown figures that approving a budget, even an unrealistic one, before the deadline would blunt Wilson's plans for a November ballot initiative that includes the governor's welfare reduction proposal and other provisions that would give him broad new powers over the budget. The measure proposes withholding legislators' pay whenever the budget is not enacted in time for the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

Brown said he hoped the Legislature could pass the budget by Easter--April 19. He said Wilson's November ballot initiative "clearly would benefit" politically if the Legislature did not pass the budget on time.

"I would think that any delay in the legislative process in which (reporters) write on a regular basis how incompetent, how inefficient, how indifferent and special-interest dominated the Legislature happens to be would do wonders" for the initiative, he said.

Fred Silva, the top budget aide to Democratic Senate Leader David A. Roberti of Los Angeles, said Senate Democrats also are considering the strategy but so far have not embraced it.

A Wilson Administration spokeswoman would not say whether the governor would sign the budget without the legislation needed to balance it.

"The budget needs the legislation," said Cynthia Katz, assistant director of the Finance Department. "We need to have the Speaker make those tough decisions just as the governor has."

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