State Budget Woes Could Cost County $50 Million

Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors Tuesday will hear a worst-case scenario of the hit the county would take if Sacramento follows through on threatened funding cuts.

To help close a shortfall of as much as $35 billion, Gov. Gray Davis is proposing to eliminate $4.2 billion in vehicle license funding the state distributes to counties and cities. Ventura County would lose $50 million over the next 17 months.

To put the loss in perspective, County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston said it would be equivalent to shutting down the offices of the treasurer/tax collector, auditor, county executive, assessor, county counsel, clerk and the Board of Supervisors. And the county would still have to find an additional $10 million to cut, he said in a letter to supervisors.


Although no one is suggesting those operations would be eliminated, the example points out the magnitude of Davis’ proposed reductions, Johnston said. Along with cuts in service, about 1,000 of the county’s 8,000 jobs would have to be cut, the county manager said. “At a time when the governor is saying ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ he’s going to be eliminating with the stroke of a pen 1,000 jobs just here in Ventura County,” Johnston said.

The supervisors on Tuesday are expected to add their voices to a growing number of counties, cities, law enforcement agencies and special districts organizing to fight the governor’s proposal. A resolution urging the Legislature to reject Davis’ proposal is expected to receive unanimous approval.

“When you look at the governor’s priorities, he is advocating adding prisons while cutting health care for the poor,” said Supervisor Linda Parks. “We need to take care of those most in need first.”

Across California, local governments are adopting similar measures, said Pat Leary, a legislative representative for the California State Assn. of Counties. That includes statements from 25 of the state’s 58 counties collected in just a week, Leary said.

Vehicle license funding accounts on average for 25% of the discretionary income that counties depend on to provide a variety of services, from issuing marriage certificates to holding elections, she said. Property and sales taxes are also significant revenue sources. In Ventura County, vehicle license dollars make up 50% of discretionary money, said Supervisor Steve Bennett. Though supervisors oversee a $1.1-billion budget, the vast majority of funds is locked into mandatory programs, he explained. “This money helps us run the assessor’s office, the auditor’s, the CEO’s,” Bennett said. “Those are all functions that you can’t just say, ‘Well, we won’t have one.’ ”

There are few options, partly because Ventura County is the only county in the state that protects public safety funding by law. That means other service areas will have to be slashed first if cuts become reality, Johnston said.