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It's time for the state to cut up its 'local government credit cards'
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My fellow Ceres City Council members and I are seriously concerned about the state budget stalemate gripping the Legislature. Year after year we watch our state leaders attempting to bring the pieces of the state budget together without ever making an effort to take on real budget reform. This year is no different. It is disturbing that not even four years after the voters passed Proposition 1A - imposing restrictions on the state's ability to take local money to sustain the state's budget - this irresponsible option is again on the table. Ceres and California's other 479 cities cannot continue to be the state's credit card to borrow on when times are tight.

As local elected officials, we face many of the same budget challenges as our state colleagues. The downturn in the economy has reduced sales tax and property tax revenues and rising energy costs are a substantial burden on city budgets. Frankly, elected officials only have two practical options when times are tough - cut spending or increase revenues.

California cities are still paying for the years that the state regularly seized city property tax funds rather than make tough budget choices. The state then took transportation sales tax money, worsening the local impacts. As the state continued to take from us, to maintain or expand its spending, cities struggled to preserve the services we provide - roads, parks, public safety, libraries and our residents suffered.

In Ceres, 16 years of state take-aways has resulted in a loss of nearly $6.6 million - over $400,000 per year. Today, that $400,000 per year would cover the cost of three police officers - or four firefighters - or the total operational costs of our Recreation Department. Instead, due to these lost revenues, we had to ask our citizens to tax themselves through a local sales tax in order to provide an adequate level of service in police and fire.

In 2004, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stood with local government leaders and the people of California to end state absorption of local revenues. Proposition 1A passed with support from 84 percent of voters, mandating that local revenues should remain locally, not be continuously hijacked by the state. Two years later, a second measure to protect transportation funds was supported by the Governor and approved by 77 percent of the voters. The message of these two votes was clear: leave local funds local and use transportation funds for transportation.

Proposition 1A allows the state to borrow from local governments only in a "severe state of fiscal hardship." Today's situation does not qualify as that; it is a structural deficit that the state must face through a balanced approach which cuts spending and raises revenue. Both the Governor and the Budget Conference Committee have produced budgets that do just that. The Legislature isn't facing a "severe state of fiscal hardship" as much as a lack of political will and leadership. We want our state leaders to be honest with Californians - solving this budget crisis requires sacrifice from everyone.

We appreciate that the governor has continued to stand with cities, protecting local revenues and transportation funds from future raids. He said in April, on national television, that the state can't steal money from local governments or transportation any more when it runs out. That is what the voters have said they want. That is as it should be.

State leaders need to understand that borrowing their way out of a financial hole doesn't address the real problem and is downright irresponsible. It also fails the acid test of leadership: to leave the state or your city better off than when you arrived. This practice must stop once and for all if we have any hope of rectifying California's structural problems and rebuild our golden state.

Let your state legislators know that you want them to fix the state's budget problems without penalizing fiscally responsible local governments.