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California and the West

Davis Signs $81.3-Billion Budget With Line-Item Cuts

Finance: Governor uses veto power to delete $585 million from Legislature's version, hitting hard at health and welfare programs championed by liberals.


SACRAMENTO — Using California's new spending plan as a campaign prop, Gov. Gray Davis signed an $81.3-billion state budget Tuesday, after last-minute wrangling in which the governor angered some Democrats and Republicans alike.

The Democratic governor used his line-item veto authority to shave $585 million from the Legislature's version of the budget for the 1999-2000 fiscal year, striking especially hard at health and welfare programs championed by more liberal members of his own party.

Davis wielded his blue pencil to delete $262 million from health and welfare programs and $185 million from education programs pushed by legislators, including $10 million earmarked to increase the number of full-time community college teachers.

Clearly reveling in his first budget-signing, Davis laced his comments on the subject with words such as "historic" and "record." Flanked by Democratic and Republican lawmakers, Davis proclaimed it "a banner day for cooperation and bipartisanship."

"This budget is on time and in balance. It is tough-minded and big-hearted," said Davis, who signed it two days before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

It is only the second time in this decade that a governor has met the state deadline for having a budget in place.

The plan includes significant boosts for everything from parks and the environment to museums, welfare and health care. It contains more than $500 million in tax cuts, including a 10% reduction in the fees motorists pay to register their vehicles, and cuts fees by 5% at the University of California and California State University systems.

"Lots of other people have priorities for me. But I have one. That's education," Davis said.

The budget increases state aid for schools by $2.3 billion, to a record $26 billion, and $38 billion when all money for schools is included. However, the $6,035 per pupil that the state will spend next year leaves California schools more than $1,500 below the national average.

In brief comments after signing the budget, Davis declined to pledge that he would strive to push California's spending to the national average. "I want to change the culture of education from excuses . . . to higher expectations and performance," he said.

The biggest education cut was $50 million for child care. Lawmakers had added the money, hoping to help welfare recipients who are returning to school care for their children. Davis suggested in his veto message that he might restore it later this year.

While all governors tout their budgets, Davis took the event to a new level of showmanship. As he descended stairs from the Capitol, a crowd of several hundred state employee union members, staffers and schoolchildren cheered.

A huge Bear Flag was draped behind him. Davis said he was dedicating the budget "to the children of this state, who represent an ideal that we can all share--that this is a great place where all things are possible and all dreams can come true."

The governor wore a black suit, with his Bronze Star from Vietnam pinned to the lapel. Despite triple-digit heat, Davis scarcely perspired as he spoke and signed various bills that implement the budget and handed them them to lawmakers who showed up to be part of the pageant.

"This budget has the largest investment in the environment ever, and the largest expansion in health care in a decade," Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) said. "Education was a big priority. It's hard to lament about much."

The expressions of goodwill notwithstanding, Davis continued to battle with lawmakers and others.

Davis used his blue pencil to take a swipe at Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, deleting $832,000--a third of Bustamante's $2.5-million piece of the budget. The lieutenant governor had planned to use the bulk of it for an economic development commission.

Davis also agreed to establish a commission to oversee the 2000 census, but only if Bustamante is not chairman. Previously, the Legislature approved the commission with Bustamante as its head.

Bustamante angered Davis by criticizing him for refusing to drop the state's appeal of the anti-illegal immigration Proposition 187.

Among the major health care cuts, Davis reduced by almost $60 million a legislative effort to boost wages paid to people who care for disabled shut-ins. The move required legislative approval, and the Assembly reluctantly approved the bill Monday in a late-night session.

"It's a compromise. It's something we have to do," Assemblyman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) said.

Davis also is seeking to cap the number of disabled illegal immigrants who can remain in nursing homes at state expense at no more than 385 individuals. Several Assembly Democrats refused late Monday to support legislation imposing the cap, prompting Villaraigosa to put off a vote until later this week.

The change would not save the state money. However, the governor is seeking to ensure that the number of illegal immigrants in nursing homes will not expand significantly in coming years.

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