October 18, 2010

The Oakland Tribune

Proposition 22 limits on state raids is hotly disputed

By Denis Cuff

A measure on next month's statewide ballot is pitting police, fire and transit services against schools and social programs.

City leaders and transit agencies support Proposition 22, which they say will stop state funding raids that take money from public safety and other local services.

Yet the proposition is opposed by high-profile unions for teachers, firefighters and nurses, who call it another ill-advised "budgeting by ballot box" measure that will shortchange schools, health care and social services.

Prop. 22 would amend the constitution to restrict state authority to borrow or take property taxes, gas taxes and vehicle license fees. Such fees are intended for local coffers, yet the state frequently siphons the money to cover gaps in other programs.

San Jose's redevelopment agency, for instance, was forced this year to pay $62 million as part of the Legislature's seizure of $2.05 billion in statewide redevelopment funds. Another $13 million from San Jose is due in May.

City and public transit leaders say they came up with Prop. 22 because lawmakers can't be trusted to keep their hands off local money to get out of state budget jams.

"Keep the local funds local," said Doug Fry, chief of the California League of Cities fire department branch. "We need this proposition because police, fire and many local services have been hit so hard by the economy and these state raids."

While city and transit system leaders say they can't expect to be immune to reduced funding during a recession, it's galling that state raids are worsening cash shortages that lead to service cuts.

The state took more than $5 billion from public transit systems in the last decade, according to the California Transit Association. That's included raids on cash-strapped local agencies like VTA and Caltrain.

"When you are out at sea in a terrible storm, you need to have a secure lifeboat," said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's transportation funding and planning agency. "Until we have significant reform, it makes sense to provide a modicum of financial predictability for transit systems."

Prop. 22 is supported by many city councils, including San Jose's. Also supporting the measure are the California Chamber of Commerce, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, BART and VTA.

Opposing the proposition are the California Teachers Association, California Nurses Association, California Professional Firefighters, and the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association.

Critics denounce the measure as simplistic, saying it will lock in funding for specific programs and won't allow officials to shift money where it's needed. Schools and social programs would lose out, critics say.

"We need to fix our budgeting, but this is the wrong way to do it," said Eric Heins, a schoolteacher on the board of the California Teachers Association.

California voters in 2004 required the Legislature to repay property taxes taken from local government and in 2006 passed similar restrictions on the gas tax.

But state lawmakers have found ways around the restrictions, continuing to borrow or divert local funds.

Article is also archived on the Web, here.


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