LOS ANGELES, JAN. 18 -- Gov. Pete Wilson (R) said today that he doubts whether he will gain support of Republican conservatives in the Legislature for proposals to impose nearly $2 billion in new taxes. But he said he will push ahead anyway because the levies are needed to balance the budget.
"You can't please people all the time," Wilson said. "Sometimes, I think you can alienate them all of the time."
Wilson was praised as a visionary by members of both parties Jan. 9 after a State of the State address in which he called for "preventive government" to avert future social and economic crisis.
Highlights of his plan included proposed state-paid prenatal care for low-income women, expanded family planning and Head Start programs, extensive school health services and mental health counseling beginning in elementary grades.
But the praise turned to criticism the next day, after Wilson unveiled a $55.7 billion budget that called for cuts in welfare and education spending and increased taxes on all forms of alcoholic beverages, a 20 percent increase in motor vehicle fees and application of the 6 percent state sales tax to such exempt items as candy and newspapers.
Wilson said the cuts and tax increases were a necessary part of a "balanced plan" to avert an estimated $7 billion deficit anticipated at the end of California's fiscal year in mid-1992. It is the largest prospective deficit ever faced by a state, and California's constitution requires a balanced budget.
"I was sorry that the honeymoon ended so quickly," said state Sen. Diane Watson (D), a leading liberal legislator. "I rather liked Wilson."
Ken Maddy, a moderate who heads the Republican minority in the state Senate, said that Wilson "really hasn't had a honeymoon at all." But Maddy nonetheless contends that the desperation of the state's financial plight will enable Wilson to build a bipartisan coalition of support for his innovative and controversial budget.
"His success depends upon his ability to alienate everyone equally," said Assembly member Jack O'Connell (D).
If this is truly the key to his success, Wilson is likely to succeed, the governor said today. He told reporters at a breakfast meeting that he has no intention of backing away from his proposal although he realizes that some Republican conservatives will never vote for it.
On the day that Wilson proposed the tax increases, Assembly member Thomas McClintock (R), a leading conservative, sent him a letter signed by seven other Republican legislators saying they would oppose any tax increase. McClintock cited a study showing that state taxes had increased for three decades while services declined.
"These taxes are aimed directly at the middle class," McClintock said.
Wilson also is fending off criticism by liberals, who have directed much of their fire at his proposal to cut basic grants for women and children in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program.
The monthly grant of a typical California welfare recipient, a mother with two children, would be reduced from $694 to $633. Wilson contends that much of this reduction would be offset by other items in his budget that would raise food stamp payments by $20 a month and allow recipients to earn more money without losing eligibility for grants or health care.
While California's welfare payments would remain among the nation's most generous, welfare-advocacy groups said the reduced monthly payments would be insufficient for rents in most metropolitan areas.
A day after introducing his budget, Wilson compounded his problems at a news conference when he said he was "convinced" that welfare recipients "will be able to pay the rent, but they will have less for a six-pack of beer." Some liberal legislators said this remark showed insensitivity to the problems of the poor.
But liberals have been far more restrained in their criticism of Wilson than they were of his two-term predecessor, George Deukmejian (R).
Maddy said this is because it is widely recognized that the state has "done all the easy things," including using various fiscal gimmicks to delay expenditures so budgets could be balanced cosmetically. The only fair response to the deficit, he said, is to seek a mixture of budget cuts and tax increases as Wilson has done.
This view was echoed by John Vasconcellos (D), an outspoken liberal who said Wilson's budget is "a good-faith effort to make the best of an impossible situation."
Budget bills require a two-thirds vote in California, and Wilson needs a bipartisan coalition to get his budget through the Democratic-controlled Legislature. He is likely to need more Democratic support than is customary for Republican governors because of opposition from the GOP conservative wing, already critical of him for naming a Republican who favors abortion rights, John Seymour, to replace him in the U.S. Senate.
But Wilson indicated today that he has no intention of abandoning the budget plan that his spokesman Otto Bos had described as a proposal to "share the pain."
Asked to compare his situation with that of President Bush, who promised not to increase taxes and then agreed to do so, Wilson noted that his situation is different. Unlike Bush, Wilson limited his campaign promises on taxes to a pledge not to increase income taxes even as he consistently acknowledged that other revenue might be needed to balance the budget.