In defense of Davis

Steven Maviglio is press secretary to Governor Gray Davis

If anything in Steve Wampler’s column “Tax man” (SN&R Guest Comment, January 24) was correct it was purely by accident. He calls Governor Davis a spendthrift, but the well-documented truth is that Davis has been frugal and careful. In his first three years in office, the governor vetoed $7.4 billion in spending proposals the Legislature had sent to his desk. He cut taxes by $4.3 billion dollars over three years.

Foreseeing an economic downturn this fiscal year, in his current budget he set aside the largest state reserve in 23 years—a rainy day fund of $2.6 billion dollars. He has not raised taxes by even a nickel. And though Wampler makes much of the fall and rise in sales taxes, he fails to note that state sales taxes in 2002-03 will be at the same level they were when Davis took office. The governor warned early on that good economic times were unlikely to continue indefinitely. Thus, over three years, he carefully dedicated nearly $8 billion, a full 40 percent of new revenues, to one-time spending—including a record investment in the state’s transportation system—that would not permanently increase the budget base.

Still, Governor Davis was able to raise education spending by 32 percent, infuse significant funding into the Infrastructure Bank and into spending for transportation with an emphasis on mass transit, expand the Healthy Families health insurance program for kids tenfold, add 54 Cal/OSHA compliance officers, raise unemployment insurance benefits and create an HMO watchdog department.

Wampler complains that under Gray Davis the state budget—including that for 2002-03—has grown by a total of 36 percent, but neglects to say that over Governor Wilson’s second term the state budget grew 37 percent. The truth is that under Davis, inflation-adjusted state spending has grown at a slower pace than the average growth in state spending over all years since 1958.

Moreover, if Wampler wants to look for the real budget busters, he should look no further than the Legislature’s Republican caucus. They held up the budget for weeks last year with a scheme to bill the state treasury for the cost of energy rather than sell energy bonds to recoup these costs. That would have added $6 billion to the budget. To this they would have added another $4 billion in new program spending and they wanted to cut taxes by $3.5 billion more.