Anti-tax sentiment still shapes Deukmejian budget
Like a surfer getting the most out of a big wave, California Gov. George Deukmejian is riding the crest of the anti-tax tide, even as its energy begins to wane.
Despite his recent victory over the majority Democrats and the state Legislature in a bitter budget battle, the Republican, in his first year as governor, has to be wary of possible political undertow. His budget cuts - however carefully selected - have alienated some interest groups with considerable political clout.
Governor Deukmejian clearly is certain that Californians are ready for school reforms and substantially increased state aid to local districts - thus his acceptance of $800 million in new funding for kindergarten through 12th grade. But he may have lost much of the goodwill gained thereby when he slashed $234 million from community-college funding and recommended that annual fees of at least $100 be required for enrollment.
Many Californians consider these two-year institutions part of the ''free'' local education system. Although the state's four-year colleges and universities have charged fees since at least 1975, the community colleges have never done so. (Tuition is a term seldom used in connection with California colleges.)
A new law will be required if the two-year colleges are to charge fees. And the governor could find himself with a very hot controversy on his hands when the Legislature returns in mid-August and begins debating his proposal.
In defeating Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles in last November's gubernatorial race by a margin of less than 1 percent, Deukmejian firmly pledged he would not accept any new taxes and would resist increases in existing taxes.
Complicating the budget fight was a Republican-backed initiative redrawing district lines for seats in the US Congress and the state Assembly and Senate. Voters last November rejected a redistricting plan forced through by the Democratic majority in the Legislature.
Assembly Democrats this summer insisted they would not approve the fiscal 1984 budget unless the governor agreed not to call for a special redistricting election before June 1984.
Through months of budget debate and a record 16 days without a state budget after the July 1 deadline, the governor stood firm. But when, on July 18, he set that election for Dec. 13, the Democrats caved in. They passed a $27.3 billion budget - $1.1 billion over Deukmejian's request and $300 million in deficit.
The legislators recessed and streamed out of Sacramento; the governor calmly proceeded to apply his paring knife to the budget over the next few days, slicing the total figure to $26.2 billion.
Left intact were $450 million in tax increases - achieved by cutting some state income-tax deductions and broadening the sales tax slightly, and by a few other devices. Also left intact by the governor were the $800 million increase in school aid, a 4 percent increase for welfare recipients, and a 5 percent raise for state employees.
Some of former Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.'s favorite programs were drastically cut by the Republican governor. The California Coastal Commission, a frequent target of Deukmejian's criticisms, lost 19 percent of its budget and 25 percent of its staff. The budget for the state public defender's office was cut 30 percent and his staff also reduced by 25 percent.
Entirely cut off by the Deukmejian paring knife were the Council on Wellness and Physical Fitness ($100,000); the Solar Cal Council ($147,000); and the California Work Site Education and Training Program ($10.8 million).
In a major area of political risks - local government funding - Deukmejian tried to do a better fence-straddling job than the Democratic budgetmakers. They had cut $900 million from aid to cities and counties, but promised to pass a bill in August that would permit local governments to impose new sales taxes. The governor instead cut local aid by $348 million but rejected the sales tax suggestion.
Large and small municipalities as well as overburdened county governments have cut operations, services, and capital expenditures to the bone in the years since 1978, when Proposition 13 cut their taxing power in half. Property owners hail the tax limitation and have stuck by it until recently. But with the pinch in local services becoming more and more evident, politicians who guess wrong on possibly shifting public opinion on this issue could be vulnerable in future elections.
Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D) of San Francisco and Senate President David Roberti (D) of Los Angeles promised a strenuous fight aginst the governor's budget action when the Legislature reconvenes Aug. 15.
They will face a Republican chief executive whose public approval rating has risen continually since his narrow election in November 1982. According to Mervin E. Fields, director of the California Poll, ''As the California public is getting to know their new governor, . . . they generally like what they see.''
In a late June survey taken as the budget battle was reaching pitch, the California Poll found that the percentage of those sampled who thought Deukmejian was doing ''an excellent or good job'' had risen from 27 percent in March to 36 percent. Thirty percent said the governor was doing a fair job; that figure was 29 percent in March. Only 13 percent rated his performance as poor or very poor; in March it was 14 percent. In June, 21 percent had no opinion, compared with 30 percent in March.