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California and the West

GOP Legislators Fire First Budget Salvo

Capitol: They urge that a large amount of the surplus be spent on public safety. Whether the majority Democrats will heed the suggestion is another matter.


SACRAMENTO — Few in number but proclaiming themselves strong on ideas, the Legislature's Republicans on Tuesday proposed spending a healthy chunk of California's projected budget surplus on public safety.

Their pitch, delivered at a lunchtime briefing with reporters, marks the opening move in the yearly exercise that ultimately produces a state budget.

What remains to be seen is whether Sacramento's majority Democrats--more dominant than they have been in decades--will pay the GOP proposals much heed.

Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) predicted that the suggestions will get attention "because they make good sense."

"We have a need and this helps meet the need," Brulte said of the proposals, which favor spending $710 million of the surplus on everything from expanding county jails to upgrading crime labs.

The Senate's top Democrat, President Pro Tem John Burton of San Francisco, questioned why the Republicans would open the budget debate with proposals related to crime.

"I'd rather see this money going to programs to prevent crime--like after-school recreation, tutoring--so we don't have to build new jails and juvenile detention facilities," Burton said.

He pledged to "pay attention to serious proposals" and said he has a "good working relationship" with the Republicans.

Earlier this month, the nonpartisan legislative analyst predicted that California will be awash in $10.3 billion in unanticipated revenue this fiscal year and next. The whopping surplus comes from an economic boom that has produced increases in personal income, in sales tax receipts, in employment rates and in capital gains from sales of stock.

Extra money means hearty debate over how to spend it, and the Republicans are the first to air their ideas. Their priorities include spending $100 million on grants enabling local law enforcement agencies to upgrade radio equipment, squad cars and computer technology.

Republicans also want to spend $400 million on the construction, expansion or renovation of county jails and juvenile detention centers. Preference in funding would be given to counties where court-ordered caps on inmate population force the early release of prisoners due to crowded conditions.

An additional $200 million would pay for improvements at California's crime labs, and $10 million would pay for local prosecution of ex-convicts arrested on federal gun possession charges.

In addition to the crime-related suggestions, Brulte said the GOP's spending goals include tax cuts plus increased funding for education, public works and transportation projects. Details on those will be spelled out in the coming weeks.

Tuesday's briefing was distinctive in part because Republicans from both houses teamed up on a proposal for the surplus. The action emerged from a GOP legislative retreat in San Diego last week.

"We thought it was important to speak with one Republican voice, rather than have a choir or a duet," said Bill Campbell (R-Villa Park), the newly elected leader of the Assembly's Republicans.

In so doing, the Republicans may avoid internal squabbling that could weaken their case as they battle with Democrats over how to spend the money.

They also may be searching for strength in combined numbers. The Nov. 7 election thinned Republican ranks in the 80-member Assembly to just 30, the lowest level since 1976.

In the 40-member Senate, the GOP's final number is expected to be 14, assuming that Democrat Mike Machado wins a recount of votes in his Central Valley race against Alan Nakanishi. The last time GOP numbers in the Senate were that low was in 1984.

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