Calif. ends fiscal standoff with $57 billion package

September 03, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Minutes after Gov. Pete Wilson put his name on a $57.6 billion spending bill early yesterday to end the longest budget standoff in state history, he and other top lawmakers admitted that California may go through the same kind of convulsions next year.

"We're not guaranteed that we will not face a similar difficult situation," Mr. Wilson said. "I don't think it will be as difficult as this, but we can't say the economy will markedly improve. We're not looking for a rebounding, resurgent economy."

While Democrats retired to lick their many wounds and plan for the fall elections, Republicans gathered in the governor's inner offices to shake hands, slap backs and pose for pictures with a smiling Mr. Wilson. State officials said California will start paying its bills with cash within 48 hours.

"The good news is, finally, we have a budget," Mr. Wilson said. "With that, all the privation, the difficult times that have been occasioned by the interruption of services, will end."

The bad news, for local governments and the residents they serve, is that the budget's $1.3 billion in service cuts will soon get under way. As in recent years, counties took the biggest hit among local agencies, receiving $525 million less in state funds than last year. Special districts, which include fire districts and county libraries, lost $375 million. Cities and redevelopment districts each were cut by $200 million.

"Given the choices they had in Sacramento -- cities, counties, redevelopment -- I don't think you have to be a mental giant to see what they did. It points to the type of customer counties serve," said Santa Clara Supervisor Ron Gonzales. "We provide the social safety net for the poor and politically disenfranchised, and they often don't have a voice there."

An end to Sacramento's 64-day standoff came about early yesterday when the Assembly and Senate finally approved a $16.5 billion education plan that makes major cuts to public schools and community colleges. The plan freezes per-pupil spending at 1991 levels for the next three years.

Hardest hit will be college students, who will see their costs to attend universities and community colleges soar for the next three years. Moreover, the budget contains a three-year postponement of a $978 million cut to public schools and community colleges, which both Democrats and Republicans say is a form of deficit spending.

There are also deep cuts in programs that help the poor and the elderly, which will hit particularly hard during this recession. Welfare mothers will lose anywhere from 4.5 percent to 7.5 percent of their monthly checks. The aged, blind and disabled could see cuts of close to 10 percent.

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