SACRAMENTO — Gov. Pete Wilson said Thursday that he has ordered Administration officials not to appear before an Assembly-Senate conference committee to detail the potential impact of budget cuts of up to 25% in prison, health and welfare programs.
Wilson, emerging from a budget planning session with legislative leaders, told reporters that he ordered his Cabinet secretaries and department heads to boycott the committee sessions because he fears that a public airing of potential cuts would hinder chances for a bipartisan agreement to erase the budget shortfall.
"It will not advance progress," Wilson said, adding that he prefers to negotiate in private with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Assembly and Senate.
The Republican chief executive acknowledges that the $60.2-billion budget he proposed in January is $5.7 billion out of balance. He insists that he and the Legislature must erase the budget shortfall in one year without raising taxes. But Wilson has refused to go public with a plan to make the kind of cuts his strategy would require.
Instead, the Administration has published a series of scenarios showing that cuts of 15% to 32% in almost all state programs will be necessary, depending on the level of funding the Legislature decides to give to public education.
Democrats, many of whom support some tax increase on businesses or the wealthy, want the impact of the cuts made public so they can better argue against them. The Democrat-controlled budget conference committee heard from the leaders of the University of California and California State University systems Thursday and has scheduled a briefing next week from state schools Supt. Bill Honig. The school and university leaders do not answer to the governor.
But the committee also wanted to hear from the Department of Corrections, the Youth Authority and the Health and Welfare Agency.
"This is still a public government, and the public has a right to know what's happening, what the options are, not to simply swallow it after some back-room deal," said Assemblyman John Vasconcellos of Santa Clara, the Democratic chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
"The governor has said things like no taxes and no two-year budget and what he's done is produce no plan and no show. It's dysfunctional behavior."
Cynthia Katz, assistant director of Wilson's Finance Department, said the Legislature has all the information it needs to consider the budget. She said now is the time for Wilson and the leading lawmakers to make the "big decisions" needed to forge a consensus that can be presented to rank-and-file members.
The confrontation overshadowed a report from state Controller Gray Davis that tax revenues surged in May compared to a year ago after months of lagging behind projections used to balance this year's budget.
Davis said collections from income, bank and corporation, and sales taxes totaled $2.79 billion in May, $400 million higher than projections the Wilson Administration issued in July. Davis called the numbers good news but the Administration said the state's immediate fiscal future is still bleak.
"We still think the economy is the worst we've seen since the Great Depression and we're in the 22nd month of this recession," Katz said. "We don't see any sustainable indication that there's a turnaround. As of yet, there's no good news."