San Diego Business Journal

OPINION: PR Paper Trail Belies Current GOP Budget Rhetoric

Senator Steve Peace

Does anybody save copies of political press releases anymore?

Republicans in the California Legislature spent all of last year refusing to work with Gov. Gray Davis on the electricity crisis. It was a crass and irresponsible political decision based on the notion it was not in the political interests of Republicans to help a Democratic governor solve a problem which, if left to fester, might reverse the governor's high popularity ratings.

Republicans simply hid behind whatever rhetorical burqa provided by Ken Lay and Enron Corp. Instead of working to avoid blackouts, Republicans produced TV commercials promoting "Grayouts." What about the higher rates to California consumers? "Let Gray Davis take the heat and let Enron and the rest of our Texas Republican buddies take the money."

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the election. Despite Republicans, the governor avoided blackouts, prices continue to soften, and world events have pushed the energy issue way down the election priority list.

So, what's on top of the list now? The declining economy and budget shortfalls. The Republican press operation has shifted gears, dropping the Enron logo from its letterhead, and spinning a new tale of the "profligate spending" governor.

$7 Billion Vetoed

The problem with this latest transparent political attack is that there is a clear paper trail that proves the contrary. The truth is the governor has vetoed more than $7 billion in spending approved by the Legislature over the past two years.

In addition, the Davis administration, despite objections from both Democrats and Republicans, directed that most increases in spending be limited to one-time capital improvements which have had the effect of precluding the sort of program growth that plagued the Deukmejian and Wilson administrations. The two major exceptions to this rule were the governor's support for increases in expenditures on education and fully funding the car tax cuts , both of which Republicans vigorously supported.

The most interesting story, however, lies in reading Republican press releases of the past year. What would our budget circumstance be had we adopted the Republican budget proposals?

Let's start with the Republican plan to use taxpayer funds rather than ratepayer funds to buy energy. Add $6 billion to the deficit.

What 'Missed Opportunities?'

Then there's a document entitled "Missed Opportunities" where the Joint Republican Caucus criticizes the governor for not supporting another $4 billion in new expenditures and $3.5 billion in additional tax cuts (apparently the almost $6 billion in tax cuts the governor had approved wasn't enough). That brings us to $13.5 billion added to the deficit under the Republican budget proposal.

At least the same Republican document calls for a $2.5 billion reserve, almost exactly the figure adopted by the governor. That will make our math easier. Let's see, the Republican $13.5 billion, plus the current $12 billion estimate. So where would the Republicans get the cash to pay for the $25.5 billion deficit the Republican budget would have produced?

Maybe they planned to borrow? Nope; here's another press release calling for a "pay as you go 20/20 plan." Oh, I know, cut the bureaucracy! Ah shoot, here's another press release supporting pay raises for public employees. Gee whiz, there's got to be $25.5 billion somewhere Republicans can cut. Here's a press release supporting increasing fees for doctors, ambulances and nursing homes. That's not gonna help.

Let me see. I got it: welfare! Nobody likes welfare. That's safe. Cut it all! The whole damn thing! The entire general fund budget for health and human services is $22 billion , that's close enough. Oh no! Only about $5 billion of that $22 billion is not mandated by the federal government!

Well, let's take the $5 billion anyway. Who needs foster care or mental health? Expanding health care coverage for the working poor was a dumb idea anyway. Alcohol and drug rehab just means less work for prison guards. The Department of Aging? People don't need a department to get old. And, if we cut the SSI and SSP checks back to the federal minimum, maybe some of those old geezers will just move.

O.K. We found $5 billion. We only need another $20.5 billion to fund the Republican budget. Man, this accountability stuff sucks. Let's call Ken Lay. Maybe not. He seems a little preoccupied. Maybe we should just burn the press releases. Nobody reads them anyway.

Peace, a Democrat, represents the 40th state Senatorial District.