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Sales Tax Measure Opposed by State GOP : Politics: Delegates turn aside governor's appeal on behalf of half-cent increase. They vote to back the school voucher initiative.


ANAHEIM — Repudiating a centerpiece of Gov. Pete Wilson's most recent state budget, the California Republican Party voted at its semiannual convention Sunday to oppose Proposition 172, the November ballot measure that would permanently extend a half-cent increase in the state sales tax.

The Republican governor and the Legislature agreed in June to ask voters to maintain the temporary tax as part of a budget compromise intended to help pay for local police, fire protection and prosecutors.

Law enforcement personnel from around the state joined Wilson supporters at the weekend convention to lobby for the party's endorsement of Proposition 172.

But conservatives, who argued that maintaining the tax would "violate fundamental Republican principles," managed to defeat the measure in a closely fought contest. They won the issue in an uncontested voice vote of party members Sunday, after a narrow victory in a committee Saturday.

"The Republican Party wins elections when we make clear to voters that we stand for lower taxes," said William E. Dannemeyer, a former Orange County congressman who authored a resolution opposing the sales tax plan. "(Wilson) is mistaken as to where the roots of the Republican Party are. I think the action of the convention is what Republicans stand for."

The half-cent sales tax surcharge was added in 1991 and was scheduled to expire last June. Wilson agreed to extend the tax through the end of the year to help compensate for a sharp reduction in the money his budget made available for cities and counties. He also agreed to ask voters in November if they wanted to make the tax permanent.

Proposition 172's opponents at the convention complained that the measure does not guarantee that the money raised by the sales tax will be spent on law enforcement. They also said that if Republicans supported keeping the tax, the party would weaken its argument against the higher taxes in President Clinton's budget package.

On the other side, deputy sheriffs and fire chiefs testified at the convention that the loss of funding from Proposition 172 would be devastating to California's public safety, leading to delayed emergency response times, the release of more criminals from jail and layoffs of firefighters and patrol officers.

Wilson also warned about dire consequences if the additional money is not made available. In his speech to the convention just hours after a committee voted to oppose the measure, the governor departed from his prepared text to urge passage of the ballot measure.

"Unless your county is crime-free, I suggest you vote for Prop. 172," he said. "It makes sense. We can't tell our law enforcement people we're with you--until it comes to paying the price."

Recent statewide polls have found the measure is widely supported by California voters, including Republicans. Wilson officials said after the vote that they were disappointed, but they still predicted that the plan would pass.

The convention also reaffirmed its position Sunday in support of Proposition 174, the November school voucher initiative that would radically alter California's education system by giving parents vouchers that could be used toward tuition at public and private schools. The issue drew some attention during the convention, with both sides putting pressure on Wilson to take a position on the idea.

But the news at the convention was not all bad for the governor, especially compared to some of the hostile receptions conservatives have given Wilson at previous state Republican gatherings.

The membership passed a host of resolutions supporting the governor and highlighting some of the recent accomplishments of his Administration. They praised Wilson for his welfare reform package and his calls for a crackdown on illegal immigration. One heralded the governor's stewardship of the state economy and the "California Comeback."

Dannemeyer and former state GOP Chairman Jim Dignan, co-authors of the anti-Proposition 172 resolutions, said they did not intend their vote against the sales tax to be a rejection of the governor.

Conservatives, who have shown more influence within the party organization than in elections, have been sharply critical of Wilson throughout his gubernatorial term. In the last few weeks, some have tried to recruit a conservative candidate to challenge the governor's reelection in next year's GOP primary.

Advisers to the governor said they believe it is probable that a Republican will enter the race against Wilson. But they also said they did not expect a challenge that would jeopardize his nomination.

"The reality is that Pete Wilson is not as bad as they paint the guy to be," said Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange), who said he supports the governor's reelection even though he won his first primary election in 1990 against a candidate endorsed by Wilson.

"I owe no political favors to the governor, but I do to the people of California," Conroy said.

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