WESTMINSTER : City Challenges State Diversion of Funds

The City Council has authorized the city attorney to begin research on a lawsuit charging the state with illegally taking city funds.

City Attorney Richard Jones said that this fiscal year, which begins July 1, Gov. Pete Wilson is proposing to take $2.7 billion from local budgets statewide, which means usurping all property taxes from special districts and increasing the amount of money taken from redevelopment agencies.

"Last year the state arbitrarily took funds from every (city) agency," Jones said. "It was supposed to be a one-time thing."

The council, which authorized the attorney to begin research on a possible lawsuit at the March 9 council meeting, hopes that the suit will block the governor's proposal.

Alhambra has already filed suit against Wilson and the state, charging the state with illegally taking city money, and asking the Supreme Court to declare as unconstitutional the diversion of property taxes from cities to help fund public education.

"The state is essentially taking city funds and giving them to school districts," Jones said. "The state is obliged to give money to the school districts," he said, and it is not the cities' obligation to financially support the districts.

Jones said taking extra money from the city coffers puts an unfair burden on local governments, which must balance their budgets every year.

"The state is not living within its means," he said. "To balance their books, the cities must increase fees or taxes. Some sanitary districts will be forced to raise their fees 66%."

Jones said he is looking into legal theories and issues aside from those raised in the Alhambra suit, but said the cities could join together to fight the state.

"We hope more cities will join in on it," said Councilman Frank Fry Jr. The state "doesn't have to raise taxes, but we have to raise ours."

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