Co-authored by Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Those familiar with Sacramento politics know that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the League of California Cities are often on opposing sides of major policy issues. Nonetheless, we have worked together on a number of issues where our interests overlap. One issue on which we have always agreed is firm opposition to unfunded mandates on local governments. Many in local government are unaware that it was a taxpayer advocate, Paul Gann, who placed in the California Constitution a prohibition against unfunded state mandates to local governments.

Today, we stand together again as state legislators attempt to inject paralysis and dysfunction into local budgets. Specifically, our organizations join in strong opposition to several bills attempting to restrict the ability of local governments to reduce costs, manage their budgets and spend tax dollars in the most efficient manner possible.

Take for example, AB 438, a bill that restricts the ability of cities to contract for library services. For communities that have already pursued some level of contracting out, it has proven to be remarkably successful with lower costs, expanded library hours and, in most cases, no layoffs. In an era of reduced revenues from the highs of a couple of years ago, local agencies should have maximum flexibility to deliver quality services in a way that provides the best value to residents.

AB 646 is another restrictive bill that undermines a local agency’s ability to bargain with its employees by giving special authority to employee organizations to create delays in the negotiation process.

AB 506 is yet another bill that would severely impact local fiscal and labor decisions by imposing delays and obstacles that effectively prohibit a local agency in a fiscal crisis from seeking federal bankruptcy protection. While no one in local government relishes the idea of bankruptcy, if mediation and all other reasonable efforts to compromise result in failure, then it is crucial that local agencies retain the option of bankruptcy protection without various legislative hurdles being imposed on the process.

Particularly during these difficult economic times, Californians want their government to be lean and efficient. They want to have their tax dollars used wisely. In tough times, our residents expect their government leaders to make tough choices. Our elected leadership at the state level seems unable to make hard decisions, while most city governments simply have no choice.

City governments have eliminated and consolidated programs, reworked agreements with their labor unions, contracted out for services, and have had to lay off employees. These actions are in the best interest of taxpayers,but they make some powerful interest groups in Sacramento unhappy. Several bills, including those mentioned here, are aimed at limiting local discretion to deliver services and efficiently trim their budgets.

While Gov. Jerry Brown, a former big city mayor himself, needs to be more aggressive on matters of local control, he has already taken some positive steps. For example, he recently vetoed AB 455 (Campos), another bill that would have seized local authority. He stated in his veto message that the bill sought to “impose a level of state control that is inconsistent with my administration’s efforts to&hellipincrease local control.” As legislators continue to place stacks of bills on his desk that compromise local control we hope that he repeats this language in his veto messages as a Zen master repeats a mantra.