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NEWS ANALYSIS : Wilson Likely to Follow 1st Term--Only More So

November 13, 1994|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Pete Wilson's second term as governor figures to be just like his first, only more so.

More welfare cuts. More criminal justice reform. More business tax breaks. More struggling to balance the budget. And perhaps more than just tinkering with the state's massive system of public education.

Wilson often has said he left the U.S. Senate to run for governor in 1990 because he thought he could make changes. Now, with a sweeping reelection victory behind him and his party poised to seize control of the state Assembly for the first time in a generation, the governor may have the chance to make good on some of the plans that eluded him during his first four years.

Wilson made few explicit promises in the 1994 campaign, and he declined a request for an interview with The Times after the election to preview his agenda.

But a look back at the campaign and a review of the proposals Wilson has advanced since he took office in 1991 provide some solid hints of how a second Wilson term might look.

"What we intend is that there be a California of unparalleled opportunity and much greater personal responsibility," Wilson said the morning after the election, in which he defeated Democrat Kathleen Brown by a 55% to 40% margin.

To increase opportunity, Wilson wants to cut taxes on business and perhaps on individuals. He wants to make schools more accountable and give parents more power to choose among public schools for their children. And he wants to streamline the state's many job training programs to make them better serve those who need help entering, or re-entering, the labor force.

On the responsibility side of the ledger, Wilson will seek to expand the death penalty, further lengthen some criminal sentences and try to require all violent felons to serve 100% of their terms. He is all but certain to revive his proposal to remove poor families from the welfare rolls after two years, or perhaps less, if the head of household is able-bodied but not working.

And he will work to implement Proposition 187, the ballot initiative that denies most public services to illegal immigrants.

Less clear is to what extent Wilson will respond to the groundswell across the country and in California for paring back the role of the state in people's lives.

Wilson, after all, has made his career in government, and during his first term he showed little inclination to slash it. He signed bills injecting more government, not less, into the affairs of individuals, including legislation requiring motorcyclists and young bicyclists to wear helmets, children to wear life vests while boating, and employers to ban smoking in their workplaces.

Although Wilson often boasted of eliminating more than 100 boards and commissions, most of the panelists were unpaid, met rarely and had the power only to advise. He resisted bipartisan efforts to eliminate entire departments or functions of state government--such as the fire marshal--that some lawmakers said were duplicative of local or federal programs.

And Wilson's interest in privatizing government has been limited to the highway department--Caltrans--where his Administration has favored the use of private engineers to design freeways. He has not joined those who offered more radical ideas such as farming out the job of the Department of Motor Vehicles to private entrepreneurs.

Republican strategist Steven Merksamer said Wilson would do well to undertake a comprehensive examination of everything the state government does. Ironically, Democrat Brown made the same idea--she called it a "performance review"--a key part of her campaign.

In a second Wilson term, Merksamer said, "the question has to be asked, for every state agency and department in existence today, is there a rational basis for its continued existence or support? That kind of review would be well-received by the public."

Others wonder whether Wilson has any interest in dismantling much of the government he will be running.

"I think Wilson is a managerialist politician for the most part," said William Bradley, a Democratic political adviser and columnist who worked for Brown before parting company earlier this year. "He doesn't strike me as a radical. He as governor has done little to downsize government or re-create it. That's not to say that he might not have a mid-life conversion here."

After raising taxes by $7 billion in his first year in office, Wilson turned around and opposed major tax hikes in subsequent budgets. In 1993, he managed to roll back the tax burden a bit by enacting credits for businesses that buy manufacturing equipment. Now he says he wants to do more.

He may begin by trying again to win passage of tax cuts rejected by the Legislature this year, including a modest income tax reduction for low-income families and a $1,000 tax credit for each full-time job created by start-up businesses in California.

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