Two months into fiscal year Davis signs budget

By Jim Wasserman The Associated Press
Friday September 06, 2002

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis signed a $98.9 billion hard-times state budget Thursday that makes $9 billion in cuts, trims the state payroll by 7,000 jobs and leaves Capitol budget players open to criticism they did too little too late to prevent worse cuts next year. 

Davis signed the budget two months and five days into the 2002-2003 fiscal year, which ends next June 30 — the latest budget signing in California’s recorded history. 

“Completing this budget was an arduous and difficult task and there’s more work to be done,” the governor said. “But any time you can bridge a $24 billion gap you have to feel you’ve taken a positive first step and I feel we have.” 

Davis’s fourth budget is $2.4 billion less than last year’s $101.3 billion spending plan and includes $41.6 billion in state and federal funding for elementary and high school education — more than 40 percent of all spending. Davis said it reflects a $3 billion increase over last year for schools, now totaling $7,067 per student. 

The budget also contains a $1 billion reserve fund and $235 million in vetoes. Among them, the governor nixed a proposed $50 million increase in the state’s Healthy Families program, which provides medical care for poor Californians. 

“The governor feels we can’t afford to expand it,” said Tim Gage, Davis’ top budget official. 

Other vetoes stripped $70 million from transportation funding, $13.8 million from children’s’ mental health services, $5 million from local air districts and $3 million from farmworker housing grants. The governor also cut $2 million from dairy waste-to-energy programs and $5 million each from local trauma centers and emergency medical services providers and $800,000 for family court services. 

The new budget reflects the continuing downturn in the state’s economy, which wiped billions of dollars off the state’s books, as taxes from stock options and capital gains evaporated with a stock market plunge. State lawmakers passed it last weekend after a record two-month impasse, using cuts, loans, and “revenue enhancements” to help fill a $23.6 billion gap. 

Gage said the administration will target state agencies for another $750 million in cuts by next June. The budget plan also calls to eliminate 7,000 positions among the state’s current 9,500 job vacancies. 

During a brief ceremony in his office, Davis signed the spending plan, which pays for schools, prisons and health care for the poor, while building highways and paying salaries of more than 250,000 state workers. Afterward, he took only a handful of questions from reporters, including one about possible election-day consequences from a budget 65 days late. 

“I regret the inconvenience it caused people,” Davis said. “I knew when I proposed this budget it would challenge both Democrats and Republicans.” Davis added that his budget cuts caused grief among Democrats and his “modest increase in taxes” made Republicans balk. 

“It took a while to work through that process,” he said. 

Davis also refused to speculate about raising taxes for the 2003-2004 budget year beginning next July 1. 

“I have no expectations one way or another,” he said.