Local government pushes to protect city coffers

January 7, 2010 10:45:37 PM PST
Across the state on Thursday, the first steps to getting a ballot measure may become big news by November. Local governments want to tie the hands of the state legislature that they say has been picking their pockets.

City closures are part of what a $5 million budget cut looks like. For example, Santa Rosa's Fire Station #10 closes every other 48 hours, causing a lot of frustration for Chief Bruce Varner.

"You're betting there's not going to be a significant call where this station closed makes a difference," says Varner.

The difference it made on Thursday was it served as the perfect backdrop for North Bay city and county officials. They are publicizing an initiative that would keep California's legislature from raiding local transportation and service funds.

"They're taking road improvements. They're taking school funds. It's a constant struggle because they are in a constant struggle. But we provide basic services for the average Joe," says Santa Rosa Vice-Mayor Gary Wysocky.

"What this initiative does is it statutorily goes through and finds places where the legislature can remove that money, and it restricts it," says Chuck Dalldorf from the League of California Cities.

The petition campaign began immediately. In Windsor, Councilmember Debora Fudge canvassed their downtown square -- a victim of redevelopment dollars held back by the state.

"We have the whole project on hold because we don't count our chickens before they're hatched," says Fudge.

Windsor had expected the downtown would be finished by now, but the state held back $2 million in funds that would have jump-started the final phase. Instead, it is only three quarters complete, with ramifications.

For example at Noto's Café, Margaret McCabe just laid off a manager. In a recession that extra foot traffic might have made a difference.

"We're in a whole different place. It's kind of sad actually, we were up until November, 2007, we were thriving," says McCabe.

The proposed amendment even has backing from lawmakers in Sacramento.

"What it does for local government is it gives them some certainty that they're revenue stays in the local community and be used for local services. What it is going to do for the state, it's going to force us to get our act together," says Assembly member Anna Caballero, D-Salinas.

No opposition has vocalized yet. Supporters need more than a million signatures by this spring to get this measure on November's ballot.

On a side note, this Friday Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to unveil his final state budget plan. During his State Of the State address on Wednesday, he said it will include job creation, tax and budget reforms, and a stable plan for funding education.

He will also need to find to find a way to close a $20 billion budget deficit projected through June of 2011.