Davis pledges to balance budget

By Alexa Haussler The Associated Press
Wednesday January 09, 2002

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis said Tuesday his budget proposal won’t include a tax increase to close a $12.4 billion budget shortfall, but will combine cutbacks, borrowing and deferring spending until brighter economic times. 

“Even with the cutbacks I will propose, California will be much stronger than it was just three years ago,” Davis said in prepared remarks for his fourth State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature. 

The half-hour address focused on accomplishments and gains, but the speech capped a tumultuous third year in office for Davis. 

He reviewed a year that brought rolling blackouts, a high-tech collapse and sagging job approval. And he previewed his plans to deal with an expected $12.4 billion budget shortfall and the threat of terrorism in the nation’s most populous state. 

The crash of the high-tech industry, a general economic slump and the fallout of the Sept. 11 attacks have left the state facing its steepest revenues declines since World War II. Davis pledged to protect education, public safety and children’s health care, but said he planned to use spending cuts to absorb the shortfall, rather than tax increases. 

Davis said he “will not advocate raising taxes” but will instead cut spending. He offered no specifics in the address. His budget proposal is will be released Thursday. 

He did, however, propose new spending on some fronts, including measures to attract more nurses in the state and expanding affordable childcare and lead poisoning prevention programs. 

Also, Davis said he will guard spending for security, public health and other programs that he called crucial in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

Though the state was not directly hit, each of the four hijacked airplanes used in the Sept. 11 attacks were bound for California. More than 100 Californians died. And the state’s already faltering economy took another blow from job cuts, decreased tourism and security costs. 

He highlighted anti-terrorism measures including working with the federal government to create a tiered public warning system and to boost the number of sky marshals on flights. Davis also said he will propose expanding state wiretap laws to allow easier monitoring of suspected terrorists. 

Davis acknowledged several relatives of California’s terrorist attack victims’ relatives. The relatives, along with several law enforcement leaders, attended the evening address in the state Capitol’s ornate Assembly chambers. 

Davis also saluted the mother and stepfather of Brian Cody Prosser, the 28-year-old U.S. Army staff sergeant of Bakersfield killed in Afghanistan Dec. 5 by a U.S. bomb that missed its target. 

The terrorism attacks overshadowed the statewide power crisis that dominated the first half of the year. Davis declared energy success in his address, highlighting conservation and the licensing of 17 new major power plants. 

“California defied the odds, and the prognosticators,” Davis said. 

This year’s State of the State is politically pivotal for Davis, who is facing re-election in November. In the past year, he saw his popularity fall to its lowest point, after six days of rolling blackouts and the financial collapse of the state’s largest utility. 

And three Republicans — backed by a state and national GOP hungry to regain ground after a series of losses in California — launched campaigns to challenge Davis.