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THE STATE | THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Elimination of Agency Suggested

Schwarzenegger says the state's environmental protection department might be expendable. An aide later clarifies the remark.

September 30, 2003|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

CLOVIS, Calif. — Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested at a question-and-answer forum with supporters Monday that he might eliminate the state's environmental protection agency, but a spokesman later said he meant only to reduce duplication in functions among the local, state and federal governments.

During an "Ask Arnold" event at a company that manufactures security cameras in this Fresno suburb, Schwarzenegger was asked by a man identifying himself as a farmer why the state needed Cal/EPA when the federal Environmental Protection Agency regulates many of the same things.

"What you just talked about is the waste -- overlapping agencies. They cost a fortune," Schwarzenegger said. "We have to strip that down and get rid of some of those agencies."

Schwarzenegger did not go any further. In a briefing with reporters after the event, Rob Stutzman, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, refused to rule out eliminating the state agency, but also said he did not believe Schwarzenegger had said that.

In a subsequent telephone call to The Times, Stutzman said: "We would look at places where state and federal EPA duplicate efforts" but would not eliminate the agency itself.

Asked whether Schwarzenegger was prepared to identify any particular agencies that he would eliminate, Stutzman replied, with a laugh, "Not at this time." Stutzman also gave the clearest account to date of Schwarzenegger's position on Indian gambling. Stutzman said Schwarzenegger supports the expansion of Indian gambling so long as it stays confined to Indian lands and the tribes agree to provide more of their revenue to the state.

Schwarzenegger would dangle the prospect of expanding gambling to convince the tribes to renegotiate their current compacts with the state and provide more revenue, he said. "He's willing to talk to the tribes about expanding the number of slots, if they're willing to pay their fair share."

That proposal would closely resemble a deal that Gov. Gray Davis offered to the tribes this year -- one that most of the tribes with casinos have not accepted.

On another policy front, Schwarzenegger -- who has condemned the state's borrowing and heavy debt -- has left the door open to borrowing more money to close the current year's budget gap. Pressed repeatedly on the subject the last few days, campaign officials would not rule out more borrowing -- though they said they hoped to bridge the budget gap with spending cuts and increased revenue they expect as the economy improves.

Asked about balancing the budget, Stutzman said Monday that one approach is making cuts. "The second is to get the economy growing," he said.

The event was the shortest of the six "Ask Arnold" events Schwarzenegger has conducted around the state.

The campaign calls the events "town halls" but participants are members of groups friendly to Schwarzenegger who are invited by the campaign. Questions are not pre-screened, but have generally been supportive.

For the fourth straight day, Schwarzenegger did not answer questions from the political reporters who follow him. He did give one-on-one interviews with several Bakersfield-area news outlets.

In recent days, campaign officials have taken a hard line with reporters, sometimes refusing to respond or answer even basic questions about Schwarzenegger's whereabouts and logistics.

At the same time, Schwarzenegger -- sounding more and more like a governor in waiting -- softened his tone on Sacramento and its politicians, who he has often promised to "terminate."

He said at the "Ask Arnold" event that "I don't see anyone as a villain. I think everyone there is trying to do something good."

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