Ventura County government appears to have escaped any major setbacks in the state’s newly adopted budget, despite state cuts in welfare and other government assistance programs, officials said Wednesday.
“Overall, it’s certainly not as bad as it could have been,” Penny Bohannon, the county’s Sacramento lobbyist, said of the state’s $57-billion budget plan.
Bohannon said the best news is that the state did not take additional property tax revenues from local governments, as it has done in the past. She noted how state lawmakers shifted nearly $50 million in property taxes away from the county and its 10 cities in 1992 and 1993 to help balance the state budget.
“They didn’t do that last year, and they didn’t do it this year,” Bohannon said. “They didn’t even bring it up. It’s a real touchy issue. They realize that counties have been hamstrung to balance the state budget.”
Although the new budget calls for cuts in welfare and other government assistance to thousands of Ventura County residents, county officials said California will need a federal waiver before the reductions can be implemented.
A 4.9% reduction in aid to the county’s disabled population and an identical cut in welfare grants would cause the two government programs to fall below federal standards, said Barbara Fitzgerald, chief deputy director of the county’s social services agency.
As a result, “a federal waiver would be required to put [the cuts] into effect,” she said. “That’s certainly good news for welfare recipients.”
Fitzgerald said the chances of the state being granted a waiver are slim, noting that it has yet to receive an exemption for a 2.3% welfare cut approved last year. Although the Legislature implemented the previous cut without a waiver, the grant money was later restored after the action was challenged.
“I don’t think the chances are very good,” Fitzgerald said of a new waiver.
A federal exemption would also be required for another provision of the state budget that calls for unmarried, pregnant women under the age of 18 to live with their parents or a legal guardian before receiving aid, she said.
Currently, there are about 10,000 county recipients of the state’s Aid to Families with Dependent Children and another 13,500 blind and disabled residents who receive state grants. Under the state budget plan, welfare recipients on average would lose about $30 a month in aid, while disabled residents would lose about $15.
Meanwhile, there are some budgetary issues that have yet to be settled that could end up costing the county some money down the road, officials said.
Among them is whether the state will increase the fees it charges to counties for each youth committed to a state detention facility. One proposal calls for raising the fee from $25 to $150 a month per juvenile offender, which would translate into an additional cost of about $300,000 annually for Ventura County, Bohannon said.
She said another issue that must be settled involves a proposal for the state to provide a $1.4-million loan to the county to help administer property taxes. The problem is that the loan would come with a number of strings attached, and that in turn could cause the county to lose some of its revenues if it fails to comply with the state’s rules, Bohannon said.
“That’s the good, the bad and the ugly bill,” she said. “It’s mostly good, but there are some parts of it that are troublesome to counties.”
The Legislature will take up these and other remaining budgetary issues when it returns from its recess on Aug. 21, Bohannon said. She said all five Ventura County representatives in Sacramento voted in support of the state budget.
* BUDGET APPROVED
Assembly sends $57-billion package to governor. A1