Local financial backbone breaking

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Local legislators said budget cuts proposed by Gov. Gray Davis
would balance the books on the backs of city and county
governments.
Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, and Sen. Jeff Denham,
R-Modesto, are calling for changes in Davis’ proposal, saying it
forces local governments to shoulder too much of the financial
responsibility for the state’s $34.8 billion budget deficit.
Local legislators said budget cuts proposed by Gov. Gray Davis would balance the books on the backs of city and county governments.

Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, and Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, are calling for changes in Davis’ proposal, saying it forces local governments to shoulder too much of the financial responsibility for the state’s $34.8 billion budget deficit.

“I am very concerned when local governments get hit (financially) like this. They’re the backbone of government because they’re the ones who are responsible for the delivery of services to the public,” Salinas said.

What has Salinas and Denham concerned is a series of proposals laid out in both Davis’ proposed $10.2 billion in mid-year budget cuts and the remaining $34.8 billion in cuts and tax increases for the next 18 months.

Some of the proposals include shifting the $8 billion in services for the courts and health services to the counties.

“Senator (Denham) is not entirely happy with the mandates in this budget. This is putting more on local governments,” said Nick Rappley, Denham’s press secretary.

Denham’s office said instead of dealing with the problem head-on at the state, the governor’s proposal just shifts the problem to local governments such as cities and counties.

“Basically, the idea in general is laying this in the laps of local government,” Rappley said. “This is just another one of those liberal schemes to give local governments more decision-making discretion without the funding to carry it out. In the end, local governments are left holding the bag when the bill comes due.”

The primary concern is that by mandating that counties and cities become responsible for what had been state-run programs and services, there will not be enough money from already cash-strapped cities and counties to keep the programs running.

Salinas said with no promise of state funding to “backfill” or reimburse counties and cities for the mandated programs, a number of vital local programs could suffer.

A mandated program is essentially a service that the state is ordering cities or counties to provide. Cities and counties have no choice, they must provide mandated services. However, the state is not obligated to provide cities and counties with the funds to run the programs, which is called an unfunded mandate. In some cases, the state will reimburse counties and cites a portion of the money they spent providing the mandated services.

It’s the mandated services that have local legislators worried.

“Obviously, our concern is the needed backfill to local governments,” Salinas said.

He said the governor’s proposal of budget cuts and tax increases to shrink the deficit is sound, in principal.

“At least in concept, he has recognized that this has to be a balanced approach,” Salinas said.

However, he said just how much of the approach is balanced on the backs of local government is what all the fighting is about in Sacramento.

“This is just round one,” Salinas said. “There’s still a long way to go before all of this is worked out.”

He expects the budget battle will drag well into the summer and said he would be surprised if the state met its July 1 budget deadline.

“This is going to drag on for awhile,” Rappley said. “Last year’s budget battle was only a precursor.”

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