A major part of the problem is the requirement that a budget must be passed by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature. Hamstrung by this rule, which enables a tiny minority of legislators to block passage of the budget and prevent any tax or fee hikes, the state has resorted to raiding the coffers of cities and counties, which in turn have no choice but to cut services.
But this vicious cycle may be ended once and for all if a constitutional amendment promoted by the League of California Cities gains enough signatures to be placed on an upcoming ballot. Such an amendment, should it pass, would prohibit the state from touching a wide range of funds now controlled by, or allocated to, local governments.
This is a fundamentally fair idea, especially since these days it's the best-run local governments, such as Mountain View's, that suffer the most. In last year's budget boondoggle, Mountain View was stripped of $3 million over two years to help the state make up a huge deficit. This year, the city is attempting to close a $4 million hole that may mean employee layoffs and significant service cuts.
"The feeling is they (state legislators) will do anything they can to find money rather than do what's hard to do, which is raise taxes," said City Council member Mike Kasperzak, who is also second vice president of the League of California Cities.
The League's measure states that it "would prohibit the state from taking, borrowing or redirecting local taxpayer funds dedicated to public safety, emergency response and other vital local government services," including public transportation. The measure also assures "once and for all that our gas taxes go to fund road improvements."
Kasperzak is an adamant supporter of the measure, and for good reason. Last week he told the Voice that "The governor is talking about taking away the Prop. 42 gas tax. Part of that goes to cities for roads. He can abolish it and propose a different tax that goes to the state. They could take hotel taxes, utility taxes and redevelopment authority funds."
This is why local governments should take strong action to force the state to live within its means, increase taxes, or both — whatever it takes to balance its budget without robbing local coffers. If a ballot measure is the only way to compel Sacramento to abide by these rules, then we're all for it.