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California and the West

Lawmakers Make Annual Pitch for Pork

Finances: Legislature's budget panel hears requests for local projects on so-called Members Day. The process kicks off its deliberations on spending plan.

June 09, 1998|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Assemblyman Joe Baca, appearing before the Legislature's budget committee, opened his pitch for pork Monday by requesting that the new state budget contain money for 20 projects in his Inland Empire district.

"I'm going to make it short," Baca (D-San Bernardino) promised with a straight face. When a senator on the budget committee chided him about his lengthy list of requests, Baca responded, "I'm just trying to take care of my district."

By the time he was done, Baca had requested $20.3 million worth of projects. There was $60,000 for a mobile sound stage that the city of Ontario would use in parades, and $98,000 for new lights at a baseball field in that city.

There was $5 million for various veterans programs, and $5 million more for anti-drug and alcohol abuse counseling for teenagers. Baca sought $44,000 to fund a boxing program in Fontana and $464,000 for improvements at the Norton Air Force Base golf course.

"I've used the golf course occasionally, once in a while, so it's a good project," Baca said.

Monday's parade was part of the annual spectacle called Members Day, when legislators make public pleas for their piece of the state pie. Members Day marks the start of the budget conference committee's work fashioning the state budget. And it's proof positive that all politics is local, especially in an election year.

Baca was one of 58 lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, who urged the panel's six members to include money in the state budget for various hometown projects.

These district-only projects are known collectively as "pork," and while some may be worthy of consideration, lawmakers also hope they elicit constituent gratitude (as in "The good senator can sure bring home the pork"). Come election time, legislators believe pork is just another word for vote.

As lawmakers told the committee Monday, the money that they requested is sorely needed to create "world class" museums, "amazing" parks, vital programs for "at-risk" teenagers who have nothing to do after school, and so much more.

"Give me a birthday present, would ya please?" pleaded state Sen. Quentin L. Kopp, a San Francisco independent, who made a pitch for a variety of programs and building projects.

Sen. Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz) wanted $1 million for the state rodeo, which he pronounced like the drive in Beverly Hills.

"Must be an upscale rodeo," said committee Co-Chairman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena).

"We're talking money, so I figured I'd call it a row-day-o," McPherson said.

Assemblyman George House (R-Hughson) made the mistake of requesting $185,000 for a riverside park in the Sierra foothill town of Mariposa. The park, he said, would include a kiosk.

"We fund nothing with the word 'kiosk' in it. It's a long-standing policy," a bemused Thompson said.

For the most part, big, sweeping issues such as tax cuts and educational improvements aren't part of Members Day--although state Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) called for repeal of tuition at state colleges and universities, a $2-billion idea, and Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-Santa Barbara) used his allotted time to ask the committee to spend $150 million to reduce high school class size to 20 students per teacher in some classes.

Likewise, Sen. Dede Alpert (D-Coronado) requested that the committee come up with $700 million for county government. To pay for that, Alpert said, the Legislature would have to scrap Gov. Pete Wilson's proposal to cut vehicle license fees.

Most lawmakers, however, weren't looking at such big-picture items. This year, Sacramento is awash in $4.4 billion more in tax revenue than expected, and legislators see the surplus as a plum ripe for the picking.

Among the Los Angeles-area lawmakers bellying up to the podium was state Sen. Richard G. Polanco (D-Los Angeles), who sought $880,000 for a cultural and multimedia training center at the old Lawry's restaurant east of downtown.

*

Similarly, Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park) requested $500,000 for a teen center and "aquatic" facility--also known as a swimming pool--in El Monte. It would serve teenagers and the elderly.

Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles) wanted $3 million for various business development programs, and $500,000 to study an earthquake fault under Sunset Boulevard.

State Sen. Pete Knight (R-Palmdale) wanted $23 million more for the state's effort to attract commercial space ventures, a program based in part in his sprawling high desert district.

The legislators' requests make up a tiny part of what will be a budget of about $76 billion for the 1998-99 fiscal year that starts July 1.

However, later this summer, when Wilson and legislative leaders set out to line up the two-thirds majority vote necessary to approve the spending plan, a sprinkling of modest sums for a park here or a new program there could help sway a reluctant lawmaker.

"I'm here to request money," said veteran Assemblyman Lou Papan, a Democrat whose Millbrae district is next to San Francisco, which is renowned for producing lawmakers adept at wrangling state money for their pet projects.

Papan proceeded to make his pitch: $600,000 for a community center in Pacifica, $450,000 for a swimming pool in Daly City, $200,000 to equip a health clinic in South San Francisco, and $21 million for a regional law enforcement training center.

"Just a modest request that probably never will match what San Francisco will get," Papan said.

Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), a member of the budget conference committee, seemed unmoved. "Not a way to get votes, Mr. Papan," she said.

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