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Ueberroth Outlines Attack on Shortfall

August 26, 2003|From Times staff and wire reports

Arguing that California "can't afford to wait," gubernatorial candidate Peter V. Ueberroth said Monday that on his first day as governor he would convene a special legislative session to balance the current state budget and enact an unspecified jobs bill.

In a 25-minute news conference in Sacramento, Ueberroth offered several details on his plans for resolving the budget crisis, including a cap on state spending tied to inflation and population growth, and asking the Legislature to put a "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" constitutional amendment on the March primary ballot.

Under that proposal, Ueberroth said, spending caps would keep the budget in balance during fallow economic cycles. Surpluses achieved during boom times would be salted away in a reserve fund -- he did not specify how big the fund should be -- and the excess would be split between K-12 education programs and reducing the state debt.

To eliminate what he termed "distractions," Ueberroth said he would also ask legislators to suspend their own campaign fund-raising until the budget crisis is resolved. That would be followed by a proposed three-year legal ban on fund-raising during the Legislature's annual budget debates.

The reason: Lobbyists with open checkbooks tend to skew the process.

Simon at Their Service

It seems that Bill Simon Jr., who dropped out of the recall contest Saturday, meant what he said in his exit speech about "being of service" as the race goes on. On Monday, the ex-candidate released the budget plan he had been promising for weeks and invited the remaining contenders to poach from it.

"It is my sincere hope that the candidates [will] review this plan and adopt at least major portions of it as their own," Simon wrote in the 20-page proposal posted on his Web site.

The Pacific Palisades investment banker suggested four ways to chop more than $13 billion out of California's budget: eliminating waste, overhead and mismanagement (which he said would save $4.6 billion); rooting out fraud ($3 billion); cutting programs ($4.9 billion); and selling unused assets ($800 million). In addition, Simon proposed rolling back the recent car tax increase and instead finding $3.2 billion through a penalty amnesty for tax avoiders, more program cuts and asset sales, and using part of the state's reserve.

He advocated cutting all state agency budgets by 6.5% and reducing health and welfare benefits to the poor. And, as Simon promised over and over again on the campaign trail, the plan would not raise taxes.

Group Unswayed

But as they take on the state's lopsided ledger, neither Simon nor any of the remaining candidates seeking to replace Gov. Gray Davis have impressed the California Budget Project, a nonprofit organization that analyzes policies affecting middle- and low-income Californians.

Most of the candidates' proposals consist of previously rejected plans, continuations of fixes already in the current budget and new taxes or spending cuts with little chance of passing the Legislature, said Jean Ross, executive director of the 8-year-old group.

Tax amnesty? Been there. Tobacco tax hike? Done that.

"Everybody's looked under all the logical rocks and hasn't found anything," said Ross. "There is no silver bullet. The bottom line is, you either raise taxes or you cut spending."

As for Simon's recommendations about eliminating waste, Ross added, "What exactly does it mean to say you'll eliminate $4.6 billion in waste, as Simon does, but give no specifics? What is waste to him might be a vital service to me."

Davis' Technique

If it wasn't enough to have actress Cybill Shepherd commenting on Davis' premarital romantic technique, Sharon Davis, the governor's wife, weighed in on the same topic Monday morning on KPCC's Pasadena-based radio program, "AirTalk." The governor, so often depicted as a feckless communicator, can still use his mouth to good effect. Said the governor's wife, "I can say after 20 years of marriage, he's still a good kisser."

Advice From Trenches

Advisors to Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gail Marshall, who survived a recall vote last year, have some tips to share with Gray Davis in battling the recall campaign.

"From a media standpoint, he needs to be on the air early, be positive, keep his composure. This whole thing invited ridicule. He should stay above it," said consultant Edward Bear, who created a series of television testimonials for Marshall.

Ten months ago, local voters rejected a more than yearlong effort to recall Marshall.

Bear, who called the efforts to oust Marshall and Davis unjust "raw power plays," said he would write playful material for the governor to deliver, such as a line in last week's speech in which Davis conceded with a smile and shrug to being old-fashioned.

"It would endear him to voters," Bear said. "Even if he delivered it poorly."

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