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California and the West

GOP Strikes Back at Davis Over Budget

July 02, 1999|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — In an exquisite example of political payback, Republicans in the state Senate, smarting over Gov. Gray Davis' vetoing many of their pork projects, blocked legislation Thursday that Davis wanted as part of the recently approved state budget.

The flare-up arose two days after Davis signed the $81.3-billion spending plan in a lavish event that took on the air of a campaign stop. It blemishes the new governor's attempt to portray his administration's first spending plan as a balanced, bipartisan product.

Republican lawmakers say Davis promised to leave in place money for many members' pet projects. But when he signed the spending plan for the 1999-2000 fiscal year Tuesday, Republicans discovered that the Democratic governor had deleted millions.

"Trust is a very important part of this process. I'll leave it at that," said Ross Johnson of Irvine, leader of the Senate's Republicans.

But the Republicans didn't leave it at that. Although they are a minority in Sacramento, they share power when it comes to money matters, because both the budget and companion bills implementing it require a two-thirds vote.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans refused to vote for a Davis-backed budget bill that would limit the growth of state-run health care programs--a concept most GOP lawmakers ordinarily would back.

Johnson further chastised Davis for breaching protocol by not consulting with him on the health care bill.

"We're learning that it is necessary to have very specific agreements" with Davis, Johnson said.

Some Democrats don't care for parts of the health care bill either, and were quick to go along with the Republican delay. When Democrats withheld support, the bill stalled, nine votes short of the needed two-thirds majority.

Democrats decry provisions limiting to 385 the number of gravely disabled illegal immigrants who may reside in nursing homes at state expense. And they bristle at Davis' efforts at requiring low-income people to prove they lack assets such as cars and savings accounts before they can receive state health coverage.

In case Senate Republicans didn't make their point with the health care bill, they took another shot with a charter schools budget bill that the governor also wants. They prevailed on Senate leader John Burton (D-San Francisco) to put off a vote on the measure, which would restrict funding for some charter schools.

Davis, meanwhile, toured the state for a second day touting the new spending plan, seemingly unperturbed by the turn of events in Sacramento. "These things will get worked out," said Davis spokesman Michael Bustamante.

Bustamante went out of his way to say Davis "has great respect for Ross Johnson." But he added that Davis "didn't make any deal with any one legislator or any legislative leader" on the pork requests.

"There was no deal. There was no reneging," Bustamante said. "There are a significant number of projects [requested by lawmakers] in this bipartisan budget."

The Democratic governor cut $585 million from the Legislature's version of the $81.3-billion spending plan. Most of the cuts were from health and welfare programs pushed by Democrats.

The budget contains more than $100 million for projects specifically requested by legislators for their districts. Come campaign time, lawmakers point to the swimming pools and parks as proof that they deliver for their hometowns.

The administration and Republicans differ on their accounting of the pork Davis trimmed.

Senate Republicans say Davis vetoed more than $27 million of the $64 million they requested, or about 42%. Their calculations show that their Democratic counterparts lost only $15 million of the $134 million they requested, or 11%.

"This isn't a matter of money," said Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), one of the Republicans' main budget negotiators. "This is about making an agreement and not keeping the agreement."

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