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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August, 2003, 06:57 GMT 07:57 UK
Arnie would swing budget axe
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger said the budget woes needed a full audit
California governor hopeful Arnold Schwarzenegger has given the first indication of how he would attempt to ease the state's economic crisis if elected.

The Hollywood film star said his first act as governor would be to organise an independent audit of California's budget to identify the problems.

Mr Schwarzenegger vowed to cut spending but not raise taxes - he did not give details about where he would make the budget cuts.

His proclamations came the day after Governor Gray Davis launched an offensive to keep his job while Lieutenant-Governor Cruz Bustamante revealed tax plans he says would help California should he become leader.

Separately, a judge on Wednesday refused to postpone the 7 October ballot where Californian voters will be asked whether to oust Mr Davis and who should replace him if he is recalled.

The American Civil Liberties Union had asked for the delay to allow time for the replacement of all punch-card machines, similar to those which produced such controversial results in Florida in the 2000 presidential election.

But federal judge Stephen Wilson rejected arguments that the machines would be so inaccurate as to effectively disenfranchise a part of the electorate. He said he would not rule against the will of the people by ordering a delay.

Correspondents say the ruling removes what could be the final hurdle to the vote going ahead in seven weeks.

Taxing times

While California's economic woes and their handling are clearly at the heart of the challenges to Mr Davis, the possible solutions are much more varied.

California Governor Gray Davis
Gray Davis said Republicans could win with just a handful of votes
Mr Bustamante said he would raise taxes on alcohol and cigarettes while cutting a controversial hike in car registration fees which is beginning to take effect.

Mr Schwarzenegger said he would not raise taxes - "the people of California have been punished enough".

Instead, he would order a 60-day audit to identify exactly where the problems were and where savings could be made.

He tackled complaints that his promises were too vague by saying: "Before the carping begins about the need for a 25-point plan on each one of those items, let me make clear that these problems were not created in two weeks and we will not be able to solve them in two weeks."

Mr Schwarzenegger, who earlier held a meeting with economic advisers including billionaire investor Warren Buffet and George Shultz who was President Reagan's secretary of state, said he would come up with details later.

He went on to say that Californians were less concerned by facts and figures than by a desire to see someone make changes.

For his part, Mr Davis launched his offensive by accusing his opponents of trying to take back control of the state by default.

Mr Davis was re-elected as governor nine months ago but if voters decide he should be recalled, there are now 135 candidates waiting to take over. If Mr Davis is voted out of office, the replacement candidate with the most support will become governor.

"The Republicans behind this recall say they want you to oust me for past mistakes," Mr Davis said.

"My friends, they don't give a rip about past mistakes. This is all about control in the future, seizing back the governor's chair and believing with so many candidates running they can do it with just a handful of California voters."

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