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Local politicos protest budget proposal

County officials call new state spending plan a 'Ponzi scheme'

Posted: July 22, 2009 10:27 p.m.
Updated: July 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Mike Antonovich, center, and more than 50 politicians from across Los Angeles County protested the spending plan outside the Hall of Administration near dowtown Los Angeles on Wednesday.

 
The spending plan that goes to state Legislators today is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme that leaves the county unable to protect residents, county officials said Wednesday.

This budget ... hijacks local tax revenue," said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich. "It would immediately cut our ability to protect life and property."

Los Angeles County could lose as much as $420 million, including $44 million that would be ripped from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Bell said.

If legislators approve the plan to borrow money from local government, 19 Fire Department engine companies would shut their doors and 76 firefighters would be displaced, he said.

"The proposed state budget would diminish our ability to deliver effective and timely service to the public," Bell said.

Antonovich and more than 50 politicians from across Los Angeles County protested the spending plan outside the Hall of Administration on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, supervisors vowed to sue the state if the proposed budget passes.

"The state Legislature is taking money from local government and shifting it to the state to support its bloated bureaucracy," said Lori Glasgow, assistant chief deputy for Antonovich.

She compared the proposed budget to a Ponzi scheme.

Under the proposed budget, the state would try to raise $3 billion by borrowing from redevelopment agencies.

If the state fails to raise $3 billion by borrowing from redevelopment agencies, than it would turn its eye to raiding the budgets of cities, counties and special district. The state would also snatch local gas taxes used to maintain infrastructure.

The proposed spending plan worked out between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders to close California's $26 billion budget deficit goes before legislators today.

All sides are finding much to dislike about it.

Rank-and-file Democrats are grumbling about deep cuts to education and social programs, as well as a plan to expand oil drilling off the California coast.

Republican lawmakers are wary of prison cost cuts and accounting gimmicks that defer part of the state's financial problem into the next fiscal year.

Unless the budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, is balanced by late August, the state controller has warned that California's cash shortage will grow so acute that he may start paying government workers with IOUs and halt contributions to state pension funds.

"Many of the cuts we have to make would be unthinkable if we weren't in the midst of an unprecedented and ongoing recession that is plaguing our nation and our state," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Los Angeles Democrat.

The compromise reached by Schwarzenegger and the party leaders of the Assembly and Senate includes about $15 billion in cuts to education, health care, prisons, welfare and other programs.

The rest of the deficit will be made up by borrowing from local governments, shifting money from other state government accounts and accelerating the collection of certain taxes.

As details emerged, protests grew louder.

The state's largest public employee union, representing 95,000 workers, is polling its members to determine whether they want to hold a strike vote.

Meanwhile, Republicans raised objections to a provision of the budget-balancing agreement that seeks to cut the state corrections budget by $1.2 billion. They say it would let 27,000 state prison inmates go free before they complete their full sentences.

The governor's office disagrees with the GOP interpretation and says the measures do not amount to an early release program.

The steps being considered by corrections staff would allow elderly inmates who are sick to spend the final year of their sentences at home, keep certain offenders out of state prison by raising the sentencing bar for certain property crimes, keep some parolees from returning to prison by not punishing them for low-level offenses, and accelerate early release credits granted for getting a high school diploma or completing a drug and alcohol program.

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