California senate Democrats propose government realignment
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Looking to lighten the state’s load, Senate Democrats on Monday proposed to restructure California government by handing counties more responsibility over administering public services.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said California’s 58 counties should take more responsibility over public safety and social service programs that they currently share with the state.
Steinberg said the realignment would help close California’s $19 billion budget deficit, although he could not say how much it would immediately save the state.
“We know if we do this, that we can narrow the remaining deficit for this year to a very small number,” Steinberg said.
The Democratic proposal would help counties pay for doing the extra work by making permanent a temporary vehicle tax hike. It would delay by two years the implementation of corporate tax breaks that are set to take effect next year.
The state would also impose a new oil tax or change the current sales tax formula to cover costs. Separately, Democrats have also proposed giving local governments authority to raise taxes with less than a two-thirds vote.
Assembly Republican Leader Martin Garrick criticized the plan as increasing government spending.
“Senate Democrats’ so-called reforms are just another ploy to continue to raise taxes on hardworking Californians and grow the size of government,” Garrick said in a statement Monday.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republicans have opposed any new taxes as part of budget discussions. Lawmakers have already missed a June 15 constitutional deadline to pass a balanced spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
During a press conference in the Capitol with fellow Senate Democrats and county officials, Steinberg said lawmakers should consider a multiyear government realignment because the current budgeting system has failed.
“If that’s what it takes to bridge to a better structure of government that gets us out of this year after year wallowing of ‘What are we going to do to make sure that we stand for kids and stand for the elderly and stand for people’ and at the same time – quote – live within our means, this is essential,” said the senator from Sacramento.
Under the proposal, the state would shift juvenile parole services to counties, as well as take responsibility for jailing and monitoring low-level criminals. Schwarzenegger had made similar proposals.
The county would handle more administrative work over CalWORKS, the state’s welfare-to-work program. And the state would give counties a financial incentive to manage protective services for the elderly.
Schwarzenegger’s spokesman, Aaron McLear, said the governor is open to Steinberg’s proposal but believes taxes would discourage private sector growth.
“We’re encouraged that Sen. Steinberg agrees that we need to consider long-term fixes, which is why budget, tax and pension reform must be part of any solution,” McLear said.
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