Stopping State Raids of Local Government Funds Essential to Reforming California

Mike Madrid
Partner at GrassrootsLab, and a nationally recognized expert on Latino voting trends. In 2001, named one of America's "Most Influential Hispanics" by Hispanic Business Magazine.

Everyone agrees California’s system of governance is broken. To reform it, we need to take power away from our ineffective state government and move it to the local level where there’s more accountability for local voters and taxpayers. A key first step in this process is stopping the ongoing State raids of local taxpayer funds.

Toward that end, a broad coalition of local elected leaders, business leaders, public safety officials, taxpayer advocates and others just began collecting signatures to qualify the “Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act of 2010” for the November 2010 ballot. This measure will prevent the State from borrowing, raiding or otherwise redirecting local government funds. It also protects existing gas taxes we pay at the pump which go to transportation improvements.

A little background here. For years, the state has taken billions in local taxpayer funds that should go to local government services. In recent years, voters passed ballot measures to stop state politicians from taking these local funds and to ensure that the gas taxes we pay at the pump are dedicated to transportation services. But state politicians have found loopholes to continue taking dedicated and local taxpayer funds, clearly violating the will of the voters. That’s why this ballot measure is needed, to close these loopholes once and for all and ensure that state politicians respect the will of local voters and taxpayers.

This measure has something for every Republican to like.

First and foremost, it adheres to the age-old Republican principal of local control. By preventing Sacramento politicians from pilfering local government funds, this measure would keep more of our local tax dollars local, where voters have more accountability. Government that is closer to the people works better for the people. Taxpayers are more likely to run into their local mayor at the grocery store or follow their local city council hearings than they are to pay attention to or get involved in the dysfunction in Sacramento.

Second, this measure helps reduce the pressure for fee and tax increases at the local government level. Because of the billions Sacramento has raided or borrowed from cities, counties and special districts in the past ten years, local governments have been forced to turn to voters to raise revenues to preserve local services. In fact, during this last November’s elections, there were more than 40 local measures that somehow sought to raise or extend taxes or fees to fund city, county or special district services, effecting hundreds of millions of dollars. By protecting more of our local tax dollars from State raids, we can reduce the need – even marginally– for local fees and taxes.

Funds protected by this measure directly impact local law enforcement and public safety, and other local services key to the quality of life for every Californian. That’s why Californians have voted overwhelmingly in multiple elections to protect local government and transportation funding from Sacramento raids. Cities, counties and special districts provide front-line law enforcement, firefighting and emergency 9-1-1 response services, one of the primary roles of government. Local governments also run parks, libraries and recreation for youth, they clean up our garbage and ensure we receive clean, safe drinking water. Street maintenance, including fixing potholes and other improvements, is predominantly handled at the local level.

Preventing State raids of local government and transportation funds is also needed to restore fiscal responsibility. For too long, Sacramento politicians have ignored structural deficits and failed to make the hard, but necessary choices to bring spending in line with revenues. Allowing lawmakers to continually tap into a pot of money that does not belong to Sacramento simply prolongs the day of reckoning and makes the budget mess harder for responsible lawmakers to fix down the line.

For instance, the state recently paid $275 million in interest and issuance costs to securitize $1.9 billion of the $2.0 billion it borrowed from local governments under Prop. 1A just a few months ago. This is funding that could have been used to avoid having a deeper state structural deficit.

It’s anyone’s guess how far and wide the “reform” fire will spread. But one thing is clear: protecting local government and transportation funds from State raids is the cornerstone to any fundamental reform in California. And we’re confident the voters will agree on November 2, 2010.

Visit www.savelocalservices.com for more information.

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