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It’s time to send them packing

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Posted: May 29, 2010 10:47 p.m.
Updated: May 30, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Last Wednesday, a packed house heard Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich pull no punches when he lambasted the state for its $20 billion deficit, and voiced the serious need for significant reform now.

Our county supervisor, respected and admired for his candor and straightforward comments, is clearly fed up with the lack of leadership by the governor and by the Legislature. As the keynote speaker at the annual Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce's State of the County luncheon, Antonovich was expressing what many in the room felt - a real fed-up attitude toward all that is going on in Sacramento.

California is in a budgetary mess and is running an approximate $3 billion deficit per month. Yet despite the need for significant action and reform to pull ourselves out of it, little is being done by anyone in Sacramento.

Antonovich is one of five supervisors who oversee the $23 billion county budget. Being the supervisor for the fifth district, which includes all of Santa Clarita Valley, is a big job.

Within his district are more than 25 cities, more than 50 unincorporated areas and 2.2 million people. Despite having a constituency bigger than virtually every congressional member's and 40 percent of the state constituency of U.S. senators, Antonovich and his team have always been responsive and attentive to all the SCV's issues.

Antonovich did cover one way the state is dealing with its runaway spending. Rather than reduce expenses, the state is raiding local government coffers. So Los Angeles County (and the city of Santa Clarita), who have been good fiscal stewards, will be dealing with smaller budgets this next year.

In describing the state's impact on the county, Antonovich said "through the county's fiscal prudence we were able to save for a rainy day. But we were not able to save for a tsunami."

Between the state's raid and the state of the economy, Antonovich said the county will have nearly $1 billion less for its 2010/11 budget. While cuts will be made to most county services, law enforcement is not expected to be one of them.

And the state is not just taking local money. To reduce the cost of state prisons, the number of felons behind bars will be reduced.

Most felons with less than three years remaining on their sentences will be released. In addition, the state will further reduce prison costs by transferring prisoners in state prisons to county jails.

California will also give the counties $11,000 for each prisoner sent to a county jail. Benevolent? Hardly. With the county spending almost $30,000 a year per prisoner, this is nothing more than just another way for the state to reduce its costs at the expense of local government.

Antonovich did cover some local issues during his talk. He stressed the need for the William S. Hart Union High School District board to pick a Castaic high school site as soon as possible.

He also talked about the good shape the SCV - and the county - are in, all things considered. When compared with the city of Los Angeles and the state at large, we're still doing OK.

We appreciate and salute Antonovich's sense of doing the right thing and speaking forthrightly. We value, and are fortunate to have, a longtime county supervisor who's not afraid to call out state leadership that's been asleep at the wheel as California careens into fiscal ditches and bureaucratic potholes.

Antonovich proposed a part-time state legislature and a two-year budget. The Legislature could easily do its job on a part-time schedule - and it would mean a cut in elected officials' cushy salaries and benefits.

We must further trim costs by streamlining our bloated state government and eliminating redundant agencies. Might it mean layoffs? Yes - an unpleasant side effect of resetting our course.

We must also revise the state benefit plans - the unfunded obligation to pay medical benefits increased in one year from $3.6 billion to $48.2 billion (as of June 30, 2009).

Finally, the state needs to - now - start easing regulations that are driving businesses out of California. Not convinced? CEO Magazine ranked California No. 51 (the very worst) on its list of best states in which to do business. California is even below Washington, D.C.

Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County might be in OK shape for the moment, and while we will continue to work hard to insulate our local economy, we can no longer tolerate a state government that is dragging its feet, and abdicating its responsibility to do what is right for all in this state, not just those who earn their living from the state.

The strong words Antonovich dished out over lunch last week only go so far. The real change has to happen this November, when we all need to send a message that we are truly fed up.

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