Originally published in the Alameda Patch. The skeleton to this article was used in about 17 Patch articles the same day!
Gov. Jerry Brown Monday released a proposed state budget that would, among other changes, shift significant public safety and health and human services responsibilities to local governments.
Redevelopment agencies would be scrapped under Brown’s plan, and the state funds currently allocated to those agencies would be redirected back to cities to pay for other vital services.
The plan would also close a $25.4 billion projected deficit for fiscal year 2011-12 through a combination of cuts, restructuring of local governments and asking voters to extend three tax increases set to expire.
The plan hinges on voters going to the polls in June to approve a planned five-year extension of three taxes currently set to expire June 30.
“What I propose will be painful,” Brown said at a press conference in the state capitol on Monday morning. “It requires sacrifice by every corner of California.”
Brown’s $127.4 billion budget plan would mix $12.5 billion in cuts to general fund spending — an 8 percent cut from the previous year — while shifting a number of state responsibilities to the local level.
Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D-Alameda) said the proposed budget is a “refreshing expression of truth.” He is pleased that education has been spared the deep cuts typical in budgets past and that Brown is proposing a transparent process. But Swason expressed caution moving forward, particularly with proposals to restructure local government responsibilities.
“We have to be very smart in how we handle (the budget),” Swanson said. “Every transfer to local control is not necessarily a good thing.”
Swanson, who is also a member of the Senate’s Budget Committee, said his priorities are education and children. He agrees with extending the three tax increases now set to expire, and also supports placing on the ballot other revenue possibilities, such as an oil severance tax. California is the only oil-producing state not to have such a tax.
The proposed budget would make a number of cuts to education, welfare and health and human services, including: $1.6 billion cut to Medi-Cal services; $1.5 billion cut to CalWorks, a welfare-to-work program; $500 million each to the University of California and California State University systems; $750 million in cuts to the Department of Developmental Services; $500 million to In-Home Supportive Services; and $308 million in take-home pay for public employees not involved in collective bargaining units.
The budget also proposes to cut community college budgets by $400 million, and to increase tuition by $10 a unit to $36. Brown said that California community colleges would still have the lowest fee structure of any state.
Primary education (K-12) would take only a small cut from the general fund, $300 million, in the proposed budget. Brown said primary education has taken the “bulk of cuts” in recent years, so additional cuts to schools in his current proposal are limited.
Nevertheless, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement that the budget proposal “extends the financial emergency facing California’s schools.”
Torlakson said California schools have absorbed $18 billion in cuts over the last three years and are now “scraping the bottom.” He called for Californians to find ways to fund the state’s schools.
Local governments would take the reins
Of all the proposed cuts, the most significant proposal in the budget is a plan to shift many of the state’s current responsibilities back to local governments. The restructuring plan would eliminate local redevelopment agencies by July 1 and shift property tax revenue allocated to those agencies back to local government to fund services.
Lisa Goldman, Acting City Manager for Alameda, couldn’t imagine ever having to face such a proposal. Although the city hasn’t reviewed the proposed budget in detail, the plan to eliminate redevelopment is a cause for concern. She said redevelopment agencies are essential for economic development and creating affordable housing in a community.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Goldman said of eliminating redevelopment agencies. “It’s an economic engine.”
In Alameda, redevelopment monies have helped renovate the Alameda Theater, assisted in the construction of the Bridgeside Shopping Center, and helped realize a number of projects that provided affordable housing locally, such as Independence Plaza, a senior housing center.
“Redevelopment is a huge boom to a community,” Goldman said.
Outstanding bond obligations held by redevelopment agencies would be paid off, but no additional projects would be allowed to move forward.
However, Brown’s proposal does outline an alternative for maintaining some form of local development agencies, by calling for a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to approve limited tax increases and bonding against local revenues for infrastructure and redevelopment projects with just 55 percent of the vote.
Currently, under Prop. 13, two-thirds voter approval is required for local governments to increase special taxes.
The restructuring would shift $5.9 billion worth of responsibilities to the local level for the 2011-12 budget, and a total of $7.3 billion by 2014-15.
Various public safety functions would also be shifted to the local level.
Brown proposes housing low-level offenders and parole violators in community jails rather than in the state prison system, and suggests local public safety authorities assume responsibility for juvenile justice programs and certain substance abuse services.
In terms of other social services, the plan contemplates shifting the responsibility for childcare programs to the county level.
Voters to be asked to extend taxes
The restructuring plan hinges on three income sources which are slated to expire at the end of this fiscal year: a 1 percent sales tax increase and a 0.5 percent vehicle license fee increase. Those two revenue sources, expected to raise $5.9 billion next year, along with a 0.25 percent income tax increase, must be re-approved either by the Legislature or by voters.
Brown plans to approve the budget as quickly as possible in order to get an extension of all three tax increases on the ballot for a special June election.
Asked by a journalist at the press conference what additional cuts would be needed if voters don’t approve the measures, Brown said to look at the currently proposed cuts “and multiply by two.”