For nearly all of state Sen. Carol Liu’s term in office, she has had to deliver bad news to officials in La Cañada, Glendale and Burbank.
Trouble began shortly after Liu’s election in 2008, when the national economy went south. California state officials worked last year to close a combined deficit totaling $60 billion, and some of the lawmakers’ solutions directly affected cities.
Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) met with city officials from her district, which includes Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena, San Gabriel, Temple City and parts of Los Angeles.
“What she told us was there was a need to share the pain,” said Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird.
The message has come to dominate Liu’s experience in the Senate .
The most recent challenge for Liu and state lawmakers was a deficit projection last week of $19.1 billion, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed to close by, among other changes, eliminating some services for the state’s most vulnerable populations.
The 68-year-old La Cañada resident served three terms in the Assembly, from 2000 to 2006, before being elected to replace Jack Scott in the 21st Senate District. She is chairwoman of the Senate’s budget subcommittee on education, among others, and is the lone representative for Glendale and Burbank.
With no representative in the Assembly since Paul Krekorian vacated his seat to take a position on the Los Angeles City Council, Liu has often been singled out in the region for her stances related to the state’s finances.
But instead of putting increased pressure on Liu, area officials say they have accepted her role in a flawed budgetary process that has been fueled largely by party politics.
"[The budget crisis] is involved and complicated,” La Cañada Flintridge Mayor Donald Voss said. “We know she is working hard, and it is not easy for anyone.”
Liu came into office aiming to improve the state’s services for students and women, she said. Instead, the budget has become her main concern and has often left her explaining proposals for spending cuts to local officials, including one that she voted for resulting in a combined loss of $27 million from redevelopment agencies in Glendale and Burbank.
“No one likes to vote for cuts, but when you don’t have revenues you’re not left with choice,” Liu said.
Anger and confusion at the state’s proposed budget solutions have often been aimed at the Legislature and governor as a whole, officials said.
Budget plans made between legislative leaders and the governor have often been crafted in private and undergone few changes before being passed by representatives in largely partisan votes, they said.
That aspect of the process has been frustrating for local governments looking for more individual perspectives from their representatives, Starbird said. The partisanship in Sacramento harms everyone, he said.
“I don’t even know how to explain how disappointing it is in a state like California to have that kind of lack of leadership,” he said.
Although Liu has often sided with her party in controversial budget decisions over the last year, she said she has done so in an effort to arrive at the most attainable solution for deficits considering the state’s two-thirds voting requirement for passing a budget.
She voted in favor of the redevelopment agency fund take-away, along with a proposal to defer delivery of gas tax revenues to cities. Liu also voted in favor of a bill to tax those gas fund revenues, but that bill died in the Assembly.
Those were stances developed along with a coalition of Democrats, which was necessary in order to build enough support for a plan that could win the required two-thirds approval, she said.
“It’s much more difficult to build that coalition if you’re going to be out there by yourself,” Liu said. “You hope that in your individual caucuses that you fight those battles and come to the conclusion that X, Y, Z best represents where we need to be, and in order to get there that you vote together because you’re more powerful together as opposed to being an individual.”
— Megan O’Neil contributed to this report.