Officials Seek Restrictions on Prop. 172 Funds
Ventura County’s top law enforcement officials launched a petition drive Tuesday that would guarantee that all sales tax dollars generated from Proposition 172 are used only for police, fire and court services.
Sheriff Larry Carpenter and Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury said the Board of Supervisors broke its promise last year when it allocated a portion of the $28 million collected from the voter-approved initiative to agencies outside public safety.
“They pledged the money to public safety,” Carpenter said. “But once the (initiative) passed and they got the money, their memories got very short.”
The sheriff said the petition drive is intended to prevent the board, faced with a $43-million funding shortfall this year, from taking similar action.
“This initiative shouldn’t be necessary at all, but it is, and we intend to see it through,” said Carpenter, despite having received millions of dollars from the board to hire new deputies and staff a new jail.
The sheriff and district attorney said they want the board to adopt an ordinance that would protect their Proposition 172 funding and could only be overturned by a vote of the people. To do this, they said they will need to collect signatures of 44,000 registered county voters, enough to force a special election.
Supporters hope to avoid a special election, which could cost at least $350,000, and instead persuade the board to adopt the ordinance with the stipulation that it could only be repealed by a countywide vote.
Supervisors John K. Flynn, Judy Mikels and Frank Schillo and the group Citizens for a Safe Ventura County joined Carpenter and Bradbury at a press conference at the County Government Center to announce the petition drive.
Supervisors Maggie Kildee and Susan K. Lacey, who voted to allocate Proposition 172 funds to agencies outside public safety, did not attend.
“It’s been my experience as an elected official that when the public speaks as they did on 172, you better follow their dictate,” said Flynn, the only supervisor to oppose diversion of sales tax revenues to other departments. “This petition simply validates what the public told us to do.”
“I feel we have a covenant with the voting public,” she said. “They have already made a decision. It’s not within my power to change the decision of what to do with the half-cent sales tax money for law enforcement.”
Despite the support of three county supervisors, Carpenter and Bradbury said the petition drive is necessary to ensure that a future board does not overturn the proposed ordinance.
“Although we have their strong support now, there’s a supervisors’ election every two years and that support could be eroded,” Carpenter said.
Steve Frank, a representative of the citizens group, said his group believes that it can collect the needed signatures by May. He said that if an ordinance protecting sales tax revenues is not approved, the group will push for a special election this summer.
Bruce Bradley, the county’s assistant registrar of voters, said a special election would cost the county at least $350,000. The next statewide general election is in March, 1996.
Proposition 172, which won huge support from California voters in 1993, established a permanent half-cent sales tax to fund public safety programs.
Supervisors struck a deal with law enforcement officials to provide $24 million from Proposition 172 to expand existing public safety programs. But faced with a large deficit, the supervisors later voted 4 to 1, with Flynn opposed, to divert more than $1 million to other programs.
With the board facing the shortfall this year, Flynn said he has organized a lobbying group that includes the sheriff and district attorney to try to recapture some of the $46 million in property tax money that the county has lost to the state in the past two years.