Cash-strapped California bans state freebies

SAN FRANCISCO Fri Feb 18, 2011 6:55pm EST

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California, the most indebted U.S. state, will no longer hand out key chains, coffee mugs, squeeze-toys and other promotional knicknacks in a bid to shrink its $25.4 billion budget gap, Governor Jerry Brown said on Friday.

The state spent $7.5 million on freebie "swag" items -- short for "stuff we all get"-- in the last three years alone, Brown said in a statement on his order scrapping the trinkets.

"Not a cent of taxpayer money should be spent on flashlights, ashtrays or other unnecessary items, most of which likely end up in landfills," Brown said. "Every taxpayer dollar we save by cutting waste is a dollar that can be used to pay for critical public-safety and social services.

Brown, a 72-year-old Democrat sworn in last month, has been paring spending where he can on his own while lawmakers take up his plan to close the state's budget deficit.

He has proposed $12.5 billion in cuts and seeks support from lawmakers for a ballot measure that would ask voters to approve an extension of tax increases expiring this year.

Brown earlier this week ordered a hiring freeze across the most populous U.S. state's government. He has also ordered sharp reductions in mobile phones for state workers and in the state's vehicle fleet.

To underscore his personal commitment to frugality, Brown recently took a commercial passenger flight -- coach and without entourage -- to Southern California to urge business groups to support a referendum on tax extensions.

(Reporting by Jim Christie; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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