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After 5 Years, Davis Leaves a Lasting Imprint

The outgoing governor's legacy includes laws on health care and gay rights, Indian gaming and limits on auto emissions.

November 15, 2003|Dan Morain, Nancy Vogel and Jenifer Warren | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — For now, and perhaps forever, Joseph Graham Davis will be remembered as the first governor recalled from office by the people of California.

But Davis' ouster, amid deep public disillusionment with his style of governing, will be only part of his legacy.

Davis arrived in office in good times. The state budget was flush with a surplus in the billions, thanks to hefty tax receipts in the dot-com boom.

On Monday, his tenure will end in a third year of budget shortfalls. His replacement, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, will inherit a projected deficit of $10 billion, maybe more.

While in office, Davis signed bills that increased regulation of the health-care industry, banned the sale of military-style semiautomatic guns and entitled low-income students to state aid for college tuition.

Under his governorship, the state bought thousands of acres of parkland and launched one of the largest public works projects in state history, the reconstruction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. And Davis signed legislation creating a holiday to honor Cesar Chavez.

Although Davis often declared his dislike of wagering and support for only modest growth in gambling, he also negotiated agreements that legalized Nevada-style casinos on Indian reservations.

The first Democratic governor after 16 years of Republican chief executives, Davis signed 5,175 bills sent to him by a Democratic-controlled Legislature and vetoed 1,085.

How history will judge his imprint on the Golden State remains to be seen. "History," said San Jose State political scientist Larry Gerston, "has a funny way of putting things into perspective that we don't always appreciate at the time."

What follows is a look at some key areas in which Davis influenced state policy.

Taxes, Spending

The state budget, estimated to be $100.9 billion, reflects a $27.7-billon increase over Wilson's final budget. Spending rose by $23.8 billion during Wilson's eight years, from $49.4 billion to $73.2 billion.

While Davis was governor, the number of state workers increased by 10%, to 311,900, compared to 8% during Wilson's two full terms, from 261,700 to 282,860. The state payroll also grew at a faster pace: 30% during Davis' five years to $17.4 billion.

Davis also was a builder. In his time, California spent $29.5 billion on highways, $4 billion more than in the preceding five years. But with this year's budget cuts, the state will be spending slightly less in 2003-04 than was spent in Wilson's final year.

Davis cut taxes in his first two years, then reversed course as budget shortfalls deepened. The sales tax fell by a quarter of a percentage point in the 2000-01 fiscal year but ticked back up the following year, costing consumers $1.1 billion each year since.

In his second year, Davis pushed through the Legislature an income tax break for public school teachers. He suspended it this year. As part of this year's budget deal, Davis and lawmakers agreed to end a tax break for manufacturers, costing them as much as $400 million annually in years to come.

Davis and legislators also raised fees this year by $900 million annually for everything from trial court filings and fishing licenses. This year, Davis raised the so-called car tax back to its 1999 level -- costing vehicle owners $4 billion a year. Wilson had pushed through the car tax cut at the end of his tenure, although Davis accelerated it. Davis will have increased Californians' collective tax bill by $3.4 billion.

Public Schools

Davis repeatedly called education his "first, second and third priority." Over the last five years, Davis and the Legislature spent an additional $9 billion on kindergarten through high school education.

The state will spend $6,887 per pupil this year, almost 20% more than the $5,757 spent in 1998-99. The National Education Assn. places California 29th in per pupil spending, up from 43rd when Davis took office. California teachers are the highest paid in the nation.

Expanding programs begun under Wilson, Davis pushed legislation to hold schools and teachers more accountable for student test scores. But a high school exit exam that he proposed has been delayed until 2006 amid fears of high failure rates. Scores on the Academic Performance Index, used to rank students, improved for five years running in elementary schools.

Davis' administration raised fees at the the University of California, in California State University system and at community colleges. In 1998-99, UC fees were $4,037 a year and state university fees were $1,873. Now, UC fees, including campus-imposed fees, are $5,437, and state university fees are $2,554.

Davis has said Institutes for Science and Innovation, being built at four UC campuses at a cost of $400 million, will be among his lasting legacies. He envisions that academic researchers will team up with private industry to conduct research and develop technologies.

Health Care

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