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Push to Protect City, County Budgets from State Kicks Off

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, January 15, 2010
Officials in several California regions – including Sacramento – kicked off signature drives this week for a statewide measure. It’s aimed at preventing the governor and legislature from using local funds to balance its budget.
Kathy Lund has had it with the state of California.

Lund: “We have to do something.”
She’s a councilmember for the city of Rocklin – just east of Sacramento.  And she and some other local officials are frustrated that the state always seems to find new ways to use city and county funds to balance the budget.  Voters have repeatedly restricted the state’s access to local funds – as recently as Proposition 1A in 2004.  But just last week, the governor proposed a budget that would once again let the state reduce the money it sends to local governments.
Lund: “The people of the state of California are getting as tired of this as we are.  They expect our fire stations to be open; they expect them to be staffed; they expect our police to respond when they call.  And with the cuts that are being made, we can’t always do that.”
So the League of California Cities and other groups are trying to put an initiative .on the November ballot.  It would prohibit the state from “shifting, taking, borrowing, or restricting” local government funds.  The campaign has organized signature-gathering events throughout the state featuring prominent city and county officials – including Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
But Tim Hodson with the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State says the measure could create more problems than it fixes.
Hodson: “In an ideal world, a state budget would be relatively free of restraints – that is, the legislature and the governor would be able to say, this is our priority this year; this is what we need to put money aside for future years.  What we have in California is a budget that is largely tied up.”
And Hodson says this measure would take the same kind of “ballot box budgeting” that locks in spending formulas for everything from education to early childhood programs and apply it to protecting cities and counties.
Hodson: “The immediate implication for local governments if it would pass would be a benefit. For the state it would be yet another layer of constraints and problems and barriers to enacting a balanced budget.”
Backers of the initiative have until May to gather signatures from nearly 700,000 California voters.
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