Thursday, May 22, 2003
Photo by Jessica Lyons: Show Me The Money: County Supervisor Dave Potter joined a delegation of local leaders on a pilgrimage to the capitol last week to ask legislators to spare the axe.
A day after Gov. Gray Davis proposed a revised plan for coping with the state''s $38.2 billion budget deficit, hundreds of city councilmembers, county supervisors, firefighters, cops and labor organizers from all over the state rallied outside the Capitol, and told legislators to keep their hands off local tax revenue and services.
About 30 elected officials from Monterey County and the surrounding areas joined the group in Sacramento on May 14 and 15 for Legislative Action Days, sponsored by a coalition calling itself LOCAL (Leave Our Community Assets Local), a group of police, fire, labor, and business leaders. LOCAL is affiliated with the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties, and the California Special Districts Association.
In addition to severe cuts, Davis'' new budget seeks higher taxes for the wealthy, and additional taxes on everything from cars to cigarettes to diapers.
A change from a proposal put forward in January, this budget would continue to fund several programs at the local government level, including schools, community colleges and public safety agencies. It would also provide the money required by the Williamson Act, a fiscal incentive to keep farmland in production.
One of the most controversial elements of the new Davis budget is a plan to borrow more than $10 billion to cover the cash shortfall.
After lobbying state legislators to pass a city- and county-friendly budget, the League of Cities adopted a resolution seeking constitutional protection for local tax revenues. The resolution said the League would support some state cuts to cities if legislators commit to a ballot measure that would constitutionally protect communities from future raids on local funds.
At press time, city and county analysts were still crunching numbers to determine how badly the governor''s proposed budget would hurt local governments.
While the May revision differs significantly from the governor''s January spending plan--which relied heavily on cutting programs--local elected officials say city and county jobs and services aren''t in the clear yet.
"The January budget was God-awful," County Supervisor Dave Potter told state Assemblyman John Laird. "This is getting better, but it has still got a ways to go."
In a series of meetings with state Senator Bruce McPherson and state Assemblymen Laird and Simón Salinas, Potter, along with the entire Monterey Bay delegation, asked the state to stop the money grab.
State Senator Jeff Denham had agreed to meet with the local contingent but didn''t show up.
"Forty-eight assemblymembers in Sacramento have either served as mayors or council members or county supervisors," Laird told the delegates. "This is the time to...march arm in arm. And that is exactly what you have done."
Groups that always don''t play nice together--city and county electeds, labor organizers, police and fire chiefs, and nonprofit volunteers--repeatedly delivered the same message: "local services matter."
"We''re all in the same boat," said Harry Gamotan, president of Service Employees International Union Local 817, representing Monterey and San Benito counties. "Loss of funding means loss of jobs means loss of services.
"The health issues around Natividad is an urgent one for Monterey County," he continued, estimating that as many as 200 state-funded jobs at Natividad Medical Center may be lost.
Carmel Valley Fire Chief Sidney Reade and Seaside Police Captain Carl Little urged the state representatives not to take money from firefighters and cops, and to continue to give local governments vehicle license fee "backfill" monies during the time it takes to restore the vehicle license fee. Losing the backfill could mean a loss of more than $230 million each month to cities and counties in public safety, health and emergency services funding.
"It''s absolutely to the point where it''s people," Reade said. "It''s cops and firefighters. We can''t lose any more money.
"One-third of the Seaside Police Department is funded via grants," Little said. "If you take money away from my city, you''re literally taking cops of the streets."
Redevelopment Funds Targeted
Monterey County officials voiced concern that the governor''s proposed budget would essentially kill city and county redevelopment agencies--a tool used by local government to clean up blighted areas and fund housing and neighborhood improvement programs.
When local governments adopt a redevelopment plan, increases in property taxes goes to the city or county redevelopment agency, keeping more taxes local and facilitating development.
The governor wants to take $250 million in local redevelopment funds this budget year, and up to $1 billion annually by the end of 15 years.
In Sacramento, city and county officials blasted this idea.
Potter told legislators that the proposed cuts would kill the county''s redevelopment plan for Fort Ord''s East Garrison area.
"Redevelopment is critical for Monterey County," Potter said. "It''s the lynch pin for Fort Ord. This is the knife in the heart of affordable housing."
Potter added that the planned loss of transportation funds will likely kill the Prunedale Highway 101 bypass for the foreseeable future. "I can safely say that thing has gone way, way off onto the back burner."
McPherson, Salinas and Laird listened, and said they felt the cities'' and county''s pain. Salinas and Laird both held local office before they were elected to the state Assembly and according to the League of California Cities 2002 scorecard, cities have no stronger friend in the state senate than McPherson.
But the lawmakers said they couldn''t promise much other than taxes will go up and some programs will get axed.
"I''m not going to say outright that I will support the sales tax," McPherson said, talking about the governor''s proposal to increase the sales tax by half a cent, "but I think some revenue increases will be needed. I''m not going to say no to tax increases, but I do want to see us get our house in order," he continued, adding that in March, state spending exceeded projections by $1.7 billion. Meanwhile, revenue was down $189 million. "It''s more of a spending problem than a revenue problem."
All of the legislators cautioned against the governor''s plan to borrow $10.7 billion, warning that deficit financing may result in a more massive shortfall next budget year.
They said if the economy doesn''t pick up, California could be staring at a $7.9 billion hole this time next year.
"The temptation is to be relieved that certain things have come back into the budget," Laird told the delegates.
"We encourage you to take some additional across-the-board cuts that are not in the budget now in exchange for cuts that are five times as large next year. That''s going to be the choice. Take some additional cuts this year in exchange for some massive cuts next year. It''s bitter medicine and part of the bitter medicine is tax increases."