Governor, city officials meet today

Gov. Schwarzenegger plans to bring a call for budget reform today to a Mo- desto meeting with local government leaders grappling with their own financial struggles.

Schwarzenegger is visiting the city as part of a statewide tour in which he is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would give his office more power to make budget cuts.

Democrats call his drive a diversion from the state's financial crisis, but Schwarzenegger contends that California needs fundamental changes to stave off its cyclical budget busts.

California faces a $16 billion shortfall for its next budget year, a deficit that has Stanislaus County leaders preparing for sharp cuts of their own when the state's reductions trickle down to their level.

Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour and four City Council members are expected to attend the meeting with Schwarzenegger at Modesto Centre Plaza at 10:15 a.m.

A drop in tax revenue forced them to cut the city's spending more than $15 million this year. They're preparing for more drastic reductions for the city's next financial year, which begins in July.

Representatives from the county's eight other cities were invited to attend, but some reported they couldn't make it because the governor's office didn't tell them about it until Monday.

Two Modesto City Schools Board of Education members said they wanted to attend the meeting but had not been invited. Schools are at the center of recent budget debates because Schwarzenegger's proposal calls for a $4.3 billion reduction in education spending.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.