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School-Funding Guarantee Protected In Agreement on California's Budget

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California legislators last week neared an agreement to end an unprecedented fourth week of impasse over the overdue state budget.

Gov. George Deukmejian late last week appeared to have reached an accord in talks with leaders of the Senate and Assembly in an effort to break the deadlock over a $3.6-billion budget shortfall.

A key element of the agreement was that Mr. Deukmejian agreed to drop his earlier demand that lawmakers suspend Proposition 98, the constitutional amendment that guarantees a minimum level of funding for education. The deal would call for a savings in the contribution to the state teachers' pension fund, however.

Democratic lawmakers had sought to close the budget gap through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, while the Republican Governor and his allies wanted to focus only on spending reductions.

Earlier, Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig said 33 Democrats and 13 Republicans in the 80-member Assembly had signed a pledge that they would not suspend Proposition 98--more than enough to thwart the Governor's pursuit of the two-thirds' majorities in each chamber needed to declare an emergency and suspend the education-spending guarantee.

Proposition 98, which was approved by state voters in November 1988 over Governor Deukmejian's opposition, requires the state to spend a minimum of 40 percent of its general fund on public precollegiate education and community colleges.

Mr. Deukmejian had proposed suspending the amendment and cutting the proposed increase in educational spending for fiscal 1991 by $800 million.

"It is not possible or fair" to reduce the gap between revenues and spending by $3.6 billion without reducing the 42 percent share of the general fund devoted to education, maintained Robert J. Gore, the Governor's press secretary. Raising taxes to balance the budget, Mr. Gore added, simply would make the budget grow larger and harder to control.

But both parties in the Senate and the Democratic majority in the As8sembly appeared committed to backing Proposition 98, which was intended to keep the state government from raiding education coffers during lean years.

Earlier last week, the Assembly rejected on a 63-to-2 vote the Governor's proposed $53.8-billion budget, which called for a suspension of Proposition 98.

The week before, Assembly Republicans had defeated a $55.4-billion budget offered by the Democrats. Passage requires a two-thirds' majority, which neither party can deliver by itself.

Mr. Honig said before the agreement was announced that he felt the Governor was betraying educators by seeking to suspend Proposition 98 just weeks after education groups helped win approval of Proposition 111, which relaxed some of the education-spending requirements in Proposition 98.

After operating without a budget since July 1, the state government had been on the verge of running out of money by late last week, according to a spokesman for State Controller Gray Davis.--ps & ws

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