January 14, 2011
In a move that promises to shake-up state agencies and strain local government budgets,
this week Governor Jerry Brown proposed deep cuts to public services, and drastic realignments in local oversight through his newly released state budget.
While the crux of the budget proposal focuses upon ways to preserve public employee labor union jobs, and raising co-pays for social services recipients, the Governor’s budget proposal signals at least a temporary suspension of most mandated reimbursements to local governments, excepting public safety and property tax related services.
The California Constitution requires the Legislature to reimburse local governments for any specialized services which are required of them through the passage of new laws by lawmakers in Sacramento. While the strategy to suspend reimbursement has been used by previous governors during tough budget times, Governor Brown takes it a step further by calling for the Legislature to review and possibly modify all existing mandates in a Special Session to cope with this next year’s budget demands.
California’s mandates upon local government cost taxpayers hundreds of millions annually, and range from ways of disclosing public meetings, to animal adoption, and a barrage of public education standards and procedures. The Governor’s estimates place the savings at nearly one-quarter of a billion dollars.
“After years of previous governors putting off the inevitable budget landslide,” says Matt Gray, a state lobbyist for Capital Alliance, “this Governor is taking many of California’s financial liabilities head-on and seems willing to make some tough choices.”
But what is ominously missing from the Governor’s budget is how to address the state’s largest fiscal liability, its 33 prisons and nearly 300,000 inmates and parolees. Critics of the system point to reduced rehabilitation programs, a growing annual budget of nearly $9 million, and more than 70% failure rate whereby released offenders soon return to prison through a cycle of new crimes, petty parole violations, and caseload mismanagement.
The Governor did, however, advocate for increasing correctional officer salaries and funding overtime opportunities.
Reimbursements to local government have come under fire as numerous audits performed by the California State Controller’s office point to millions in improper billing to the state. In many cases the improper reimbursements received dwarf the legitimate mandate claims. One report shows that pet adoption practices run contrary to intended policies, as animal shelter receive more reimbursements for euthanizing animals than they do for getting them adopted.
Out of concern for suspending mandates for disclosure of public meeting information, State Senator Leland Yee (D, San Francisco), has introduced a Constitutional Amendment to require disclosures even if local governments are not reimbursed.
“Californians have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing,” said Yee, referencing recent developments of corruption by the City of Bell. “Our open meeting laws are too important to be made optional every time the state runs short of money.”
The Legislature has until June 15, 2011, to respond to the Governor’s Budget with its own final modifications. The recent passage of Proposition 25 by voters in the November 2010 General Election changed the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget to a simple majority of lawmakers’ votes. No longer reliant upon securing any republican support for the budget, proposing and passing a balanced budget is entirely up to democratic lawmakers.