Saying that programs mandated but not funded by Sacramento and Washington have worsened the county's budget woes, San Diego County Supervisor George Bailey threatened Wednesday to refuse to implement new state and federal programs here if money is not provided for their operation.
In a State of the County address delivered one day after he became the Board of Supervisors' 65th chairman, Bailey, expanding upon a theme that he has stressed throughout his first four-year term, warned that unfunded state and federal programs have caused the county to lose control of its own budget.
Of the county's current $1.2-billion budget, 93%, or $1.1 billion, is devoted to programs required by state or federal laws, ranging from welfare and social services to jails and indigent defense, Bailey said in his 30-minute address. Only 7% of the county's budget, or about $84 million, is discretionary.
Most Angry at Legislature
Although he included Washington in his remarks, Bailey directed most of his verbal wrath at the state Legislature, which, he noted, ordered California counties to implement 2,800 programs from 1975-1984 but completely funded fewer than 100 of those actions.
"As a result, county dollars are required to be spent in some areas that may not be a top priority of the Board of Supervisors or the people of San Diego County," Bailey said.
"In 1988, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors will 'just say no' to any unfunded mandates from Sacramento. We will implement only those program mandates that are fully funded and other programs only to the level of funding provided by the state and federal governments."
Bailey's colleagues praised his throwing down of the gauntlet to the state as, in the words of Supervisor Leon Williams, "proof that we're just not going to lie down and take it anymore."
"We're losing our patience. That's why we've taken the offensive," added Supervisor Brian Bilbray.
Bailey conceded that the county's refusal to enact state-mandated programs could lead to a legal challenge. Bilbray, however, offered this explanation for why he believes that is unlikely to occur: "For the state to take action against the county would be as absurd as a car thief filing charges against the car's owner for reporting it missing."
At Bailey's urging, the board two years ago filed two lawsuits against the state charging that San Diego County has not received its fair share of tax revenues.
Citing some key statistics that led to those lawsuits, Bailey pointed out in his speech that, during the 1985-86 fiscal year, the average per capita allocation of general revenues for counties was $220.26. San Diego, however, received only $159.37 per capita, the second lowest of the state's 58 counties and a figure that, from the county's perspective, produced a $132-million shortfall. County officials also contend that San Diego received $72 million less in property tax revenues than the statewide average that year.
Even if the county is ultimately successful in the lawsuits, Bailey acknowledged that "it will take years before we see substantial monetary benefits." In the meantime, the county needs cooperation from other local governments and the public to solve "common regional problems," he added.
That latter remark was a thinly veiled reference to a half-cent sales tax increase that the supervisors voted on Tuesday to place on the June ballot in an effort to raise $1.6 billion for new jails and courts.
"We are on the edge of a financial crisis unless additional revenues become available to build more jails and other criminal justice facilities," Bailey said, noting that more than 2,000 local arrestees are released monthly because the inmate populations in the six county jails typically are double their official capacities. "Our society must not refuse to protect itself."
The county already spends all but $36 million of the $84 million in annual discretionary funds on the criminal justice system. Unless the proposed sales-tax increase is approved or other funds become available, Bailey warned, there will be even less money available for various social and recreational programs.
Other Priorities Identified
Bailey also identified a long list of other top policy priorities for 1988, including growth management, traffic congestion, solid waste disposal, programs to control AIDS and other public health problems, library funding, removal of abandoned autos from streets and emergency medical services.
Lavishing praise on his colleagues and Chief Administrative Officer Norman Hickey, Bailey said that the board and county administrators are "prepared to take charge to meet the 1988 challenges (caused by) demands quickly outpacing our limited revenues."
"This county is moving forward," Bailey said. "In just three years, San Diego County has turned from chaos to confidence, from scandal to success and from ridicule to respect . . . That's the good news. The bad news is that this upward momentum could come to a screeching halt any day."