At a special hearing Friday to air concerns about Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to shift responsibilities to the counties, Los Angeles County officials told state lawmakers they wanted to help cut California’s deficit but had serious questions about the bottom line.
If Brown’s plan is enacted, county officials estimate they would assume $1.4 billion in additional program responsibilities beginning this year. They said the county — which currently operates with a $24.2-billion budget — would not have the money or program expertise to absorb certain elements of the plan so quickly.
Four of the five county supervisors spoke at the hearing called by the state Assembly’s Budget Committee, chaired by Bob Blumenfeld, (D-Van Nuys). All seemed to agree that the governor’s plan did not appear to offer sufficient funding for the programs the county would be asked to take over.
Under the governor’s so-called realignment plan, the state would transfer a wide swath of its funding responsibilities and services to county governments. For example, counties would assume increased responsibility for the funding of mental health, child welfare services and substance abuse programs. Brown has pledged to also shift funding for the programs and hopes voters will approve $6 billion in tax and fee increases during a special election in June to help.
“To put it simply,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, “if the state proposes to save money by shifting both program responsibilities and the funding for them to counties, where will the savings be? Can it really be that local governments are so much more efficient that citizens will receive the same or higher levels of public service at substantially reduced cost?”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said, “We understand the nature and extremity of the fiscal crisis facing the state. All we ask of the state is this: Don’t make matters worse.”
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, delivering some of the day’s most pugnacious remarks, took issue with Brown’s plan to send 37,000 nonviolent offenders to serve their terms locally either in jail or under the supervision of the county Probation Department.
“Go back to the drawing board. From my standpoint, it does not work. It endangers public safety, and I will continue to oppose it,” Cooley said. “The realignment proposal is a public safety nightmare.”
Cooley strongly disagreed with the governor’s assessment that the offenders in question had committed nonserious crimes, raising the possibility that former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, if convicted on charges of misusing millions in public funds for personal benefit, could be among those who would serve significantly fewer years.
Also likely to be released early, he said, is Bertha Bugarin, who was sentenced to three years in prison after performing abortions with no medical training.
Cooley said the state should instead find savings by using electronic monitoring and work furloughs for less serious criminals in state prison.