Supervisors Hold Off Tapping Surplus Funds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to postpone spending some of its recently discovered multimillion-dollar surplus until after the November election, when it will have a better sense of its financial situation.

By agreeing to leave $45.1 million untouched until next month, the board also temporarily defused a political squabble between its liberal and conservative wings over the best use of the money.

"It's going to be a big fight because everyone will have a different thing they want to restore," Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said, citing competing proposals from Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina.

Antonovich has proposed using about $27.5 million to restore cuts to law enforcement agencies, including the district attorney's office and the Sheriff's Department.

In contrast, Molina has proposed spending nearly $50 million to help restore other services, including libraries and welfare benefits to general relief recipients.

The money would be drawn from a $111.1-million surplus discovered after the board adopted the county's $13.5-billion budget in July. The pot--composed of departmental savings, fire district funds and flood control money--was originally estimated at $125 million, but was reduced Tuesday to $111.1 million because of lower-than-expected flood control revenues.

But the supervisors did dip into the surplus Tuesday, spending about $66 million to help reach the goal of $215 million in labor savings upon which the county had based its budget. The remainder of the labor savings is expected to come from a recently negotiated settlement with the county's labor unions on salary and overtime pay deferrals.

Molina wanted the board to immediately allocate the rest of the surplus funds--$45.1 million--instead of waiting until Nov. 2, when voters will decide whether to make a half-cent sales tax permanent. If that is passed, the county would net $174 million. The county's $13.5-billion budget was built on the premise that the measure will be passed.

During debate on the issue, Molina said she was willing to wait until after Oct. 10, the deadline for Gov. Pete Wilson to sign legislation that would spare county libraries and health clinics from funding losses. The library bill would provide $32 million through creation of an assessment district to keep 43 public libraries operating, and the health bill would free up $72.8 million in state tobacco tax money to fund 24 health clinics slated to close.

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