Budget would shift burden to local government

Calls for billions in cuts to programs and services and for continuing temporary tax hikes aren't the only reasons Gov. Jerry Brown's state budget proposal was turning heads Monday.

Brown's plan also calls for a reorganization of the state bureaucracy that would shift control of some state-managed public-safety, child-welfare and mental-health programs over to county officials in exchange for direct access to the tax revenues that would fund them.

Dubbed "realignment," the idea — a throwback to the days when Brown previously served as governor, before revenue collection and spending was centralized in the wake of Proposition 13 — hinges on the expectation that local governments will better know how to spend constituents' tax dollars and would administer that spending more efficiently.

While La Cañada Flintridge officials say it appears the city would remain largely unaffected by the budget's belt-tightening and reorganization measures, Los Angeles County leaders have expressed concern about taking on increased responsibilities in tough economic times.

But Jean Ross, director of the nonpartisan California Budget Project think tank, said she was "conceptually supportive" of returning control of, and responsibility for, certain state functions to local government.

"The devil is in the details, and we haven't seen the details. I have concerns, and when we see the details, I'm sure I'll have more concerns. But at least in the past, this kind of transaction has been designed to allow communities some ability to tailor how they deliver services to meet the needs of the local community," Ross said.

In 1991, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson successfully moved some mental-health services into local control, Ross said.

Under Brown's plan, responsibility for the state's $1.6 billion role in foster-care and child-welfare services would transfer to county authority next year, as would a $1.5 billion cost of dealing with low-level criminal offenders and parole violators in county jails rather than state prisons.

These and other changes totaling $5.9 billion would be funded by extending vehicle license-fee and sales-tax increases and channeling that money directly to counties.

Costs and benefits

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), a member of the Senate's Budget Committee, said Brown's plan to move low-level state prisoners into county jails would likely provoke the greatest concern at the local level.

But in the bigger picture, Liu said, Brown's proposals to scale back or restructure state programs, rather than eliminate them entirely, holds potential to remedy government waste. She cited in particular the call for stricter standards for delivery of in-home support services.

"Some of these cuts are pretty strategic. In essence, it gets to these issues of waste, fraud and abuse. He didn't eliminate in-home supportive services as [Gov.] Arnold [Schwarzenegger] would have done, but targeted areas where we can be more efficient," Liu said.

Proposed cuts of $500,000 million each to the University of California and California State University systems and $400,000 million to community colleges are expected to deal significant blows to the state's already struggling higher-education system.

Community colleges also came under the budgetary microscope. Coupled with a proposed $10-per-unit fee increase for students, community-college funding reductions would amount to as much as a $5.5 million loss to Glendale City College, said Ron Nakasone, the college's vice president of administrative services.

"Overall, that's close to 7% of our budget that we'd have to cut. We'd probably have to cut classes, and we'd definitely have to approach the unions and get agreements for furloughs or pay cuts," he said.

Nakasone also fears that cuts could as much as double at GCC if voters deny Brown's proposed tax- and fee-increase extensions at the ballot box in June.

Though Brown would maintain current K-12 education funding — saying schools had already suffered too many cuts in previous years — that too may only be possible with voter-approved tax extensions.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a Republican, is less than optimistic that Brown's realignment plan will result in any lasting reduction in government spending.

"True realignment is using property taxes for property-related services. Shifting state and federal mandates to local government and calling it 'realignment' is a Trojan horse. All non-property related services should be funded by the state — any other scheme is a recipe for fiscal chaos," Antonovich's statement reads.

Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, both Democrats, wrote a Monday op-ed for the Los Angeles Times skeptical that Brown's plan could force county officials to make services cuts or soon face budget shortfalls similar to those now plaguing the state.

"If the state proposes to save itself money by shifting both program responsibilities and the funding for them to local governments, 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 services at substantially reduced cost?" they wrote.

City avoids squeeze

Brown's planned state budget cuts and realignment scheme appear to have little direct impact on La Cañada Flintridge City Hall, said Ann Wilson, senior management analyst.

Though Brown's proposed budget seeks to end all funding for city redevelopment agencies, the city does not have an active redevelopment agency and so would not be affected, Wilson said.

Mayor Donald Voss, Councilwoman Laura Olhasso, Councilman Dave Spence and City Manager Mark Alexander were in Sacramento Monday attending a meeting of California Contract Cities Association, for which Olhasso serves as executive board president.

Spence said few officials have had much time to review the budget, but many were already buzzing about the possible elimination or redevelopment agencies and concerns about Brown's realignment strategy.

"I can tell you that everyone I've spoken to in local government is not wanting to take over all of these state services unless there is money allocated to fund those services," Spence said. "While taking redevelopment money from La Cañada is a zero sum game because we don't have any, for other cities, it's going to be negative for job creation."

'A good first step'

State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) said he won't jump to conclusions about the merits of moving state programs over to county authority.

"Most people want more local control, but it has to be a kind of local control that makes sense for the locals," said Portantino.

Overall, Brown's proposal "is a good first step in the sense it's pretty much spreading the pain out across the board," he added. "I don't like cutting higher education, and I'm going to have to take a long, serious look at the revenue side, but it was balanced. He's put some serious proposals on the table."

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