Horror stories out of Sacramento curdle Supes’ blood: It’s Twilight with no sunset
As DJ Kasey Kasem used to say on his “America’s Top 40” radio show, the hits just keep on coming. The state is wrestling with yet another $20 billion budget deficit (depending on whom you talk to in Sacramento) and counties are being increasingly forced to stand their ground when it comes to dollars and common sense legislation.
During Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Hap Hazard briefed members on several issues he followed in his recent trip to the state capitol.
A pair of items were discussed at the last California State Association of Counties (Hazard is Mono’s delegate). A recent report from the state’s Office of Legislative Analysis on diesel emissions requirements drew considerable fire from CSAC members, who were agitated that the report was done on a state level, but didn’t address the issue at the county level. A similar reaction was observed when the state tried to issue a blanket set of requirements for landscape water usage a few months ago. Responding to the report, many counties are considering enacting their own legislation requiring state lawmakers to do a county-specific cost benefit analysis before imposing such regulations on counties.
This comes as a bill with similar goals makes its way through the California State Senate. Senator Dave Cox has said he supports the aim of the bill, which calls for any state regulatory agency to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for any legislation that impacts groups or business to the amount of $10 million or more. Hazard said he and Cox are pushing for individuals, as well as counties and water agencies be added to the bill’s provisions.
And counties may find themselves on the opposite side of a proposed November ballot measure that, if passed, would protect cities and municipalities from state takings of gas tax and property tax revenues. CSAC opposed the proposition in committee votes, and counties will likely oppose it in November, citing increased protection for cities, but no such protection for counties.
Hazard said the consequence of the proposed measure would likely compel the state, already hard up for revenue, to take greater aim at county funding for public and mental health, and jail and law enforcement dollars already being threatened or otherwise decimated.
The upcoming state budget is facing a $19-20 billion deficit, and next fiscal year (2011-2012) is already $6 billion in the hole, and that’s before this year’s budget is finalized.
Mono Supervisors came to consensus that Hazard can represent to CSAC Mono County’s “strong opposition” to the proposition. Finance Director Brian Muir echoed in no uncertain terms his department’s support for the Board’s position.
Muir said the proposition only adds to the confusion, mis-perception, speculation and grousing about what is or isn’t in the budget. “There’s so much smoke and mirrors out there, that we may go to our budget having no idea what the state is doing,” Muir observed.
But wait, there’s more …
During Board reports, Hazard also informed his fellow supervisors of some state budget presentations made by some top Sacramento politicos.
Senator Denise Ducheny (Chula Vista/El Centro) posited to those in attendance that the state’s lower April tax revenues reflect a “2009 economy,” and her thought is that the state is at “a tipping point in its financial crisis.” According to Hazard, her solution: maintain current business taxes, increase personal taxes and vehicle license taxes
This does, however, jibe with a recent recommendation by Senate Democrats that 25 percent of the state’s $19.1 billion budget shortfall be filled with revenue rather than cuts in social services and health programs.
Hazard said her remarks were largely indicative of what he called a “huge disconnect” between Sacramento and Main Street. “When are you going to make staffing cuts and budget modifications?” he asked rhetorically. “They see light at the end of the tunnel, but they read it as ‘do business as usual.’ There seems to be no desire, no concept in her presentation to restructure. It’s easy to see why the state is upside down.”
Another presentation from state Treasurer Bill Lockyer revealed that higher education costs and subsidies, as well as prison line items account for 25% of the state budget.
Lockyer suggested the state should consider employing $10 billion in short term loans to buffer the deficit.
As Lockyer sees it, California’s economy isn’t that bad, when viewed statistically. According to his figures, it has the second thinnest government staffing per capita than any state in the union. In terms of property taxes California ranks 31st and is 21st when it comes to general state taxes. Even with our deficit woes, Lockyer pointed out that the state’s debt-to-GNP ratio is running at just under 1%.
His remarks, however, didn’t address another statistic: that as of the May budget revision, 400,000 jobs have been lost in the state.
County representatives have complained that they have had a disproportionate share of staffing hits, and criticized a lack of savings from furloughs due to several lost legal challenges and their associated paybacks that also included interest payments.
Lockyer acknowledged those complaints and further pointed to what he called a “brain drain” at state level. Employees with experience in upper management have taken early retirements, but their positions have been largely left unfilled.
“We could lay off all state workers, close all schools and prisons, and still not balance our budget,” Lockyer told Hazard.