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State budget woes hit home

Local government concerned over impact on SCV

Posted: January 15, 2009 10:11 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2009 4:30 a.m.
 

Frustrated local government officials braced themselves in reaction to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's gloomy State of the State address Thursday, but planned on making changes that would have the least impact on services.

"It's time to get this resolved. It's gone way too long and it's finally come home to roost," said Marc Winger, Newhall School District superintendent.

"We're out here waiting for cuts to this year's budget and here we are halfway through the (fiscal) year," he said. "It's quite concerning to us who manages the budget."

Winger also remains concerned about the cuts to education in future years.

Schwarzenegger called California's $42 billion deficit a "rock upon our chest" and said the state can address no other policy issues until the fiscal crisis is resolved.

The Republican governor delivered his sixth State of the State address amid a grim political backdrop as California's budget deficit is expected to soar past $40 billion over the next year-and-a-half, the financial and construction industries have been decimated by the housing collapse and unemployment is on the rise.

As a result, revenue from property, sales and capital gains taxes has plunged, leading California to the brink of fiscal calamity.

College of the Canyons officials depend on the state for most of their funding, said college spokeswoman Sue Bozman.

"So we are deeply concerned as we watch this crisis deepen," Bozman said. "We believe that by putting their heads together, working together, and taking courageous actions, our California legislators will be able to create solutions to our fiscal emergency."

College trustees passed a $210 million budget in October that allocated funding for an anticipated 8 percent growth rate but will fall short of covering the 17 percent enrollment spurt, Bozman said. The difference represents about 2,100 unfunded student enrollments.

"We are depending on (legislators) so that we can move forward, provide the education and workforce training our local community requires and do the vital work needed to bring about our state's recovery," Bozman said.

City of Santa Clarita officials are confident their frugal ways gives them a buffer but agreed that no one at City Hall is underestimating the state of the economy. Locally generated revenue is down and remains an issue of concern, and it remains to be seen how much fiscal belt-tightening the city will need in the coming months.

"There's a good comparison between how the city has budgeted over the last 20 years and how the state has budgeted," said Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin. "Even in the best of times, (legislators) have not been able to balance a budget and they live above their means."

"We'll continue to look at revenue sources," Striplin said. "Come July 1, the City Council will have a balanced budget."

Schwarzenegger warned that California, the world's eighth largest economy, faces insolvency within weeks if lawmakers fail to close the widening deficit.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich had some strong suggestions for Sacramento.

"The crisis our state faces in Sacramento highlights the need for structural reform that includes a two-year budget, a part-time legislature, an end to legislation that costs more to pass than the recipient receives - as well as an end to term limits," Antonovich said.

A two-year budget provides local government a consistent funding stream for it to prepare its own financial agenda for public safety, schools, libraries and parks.

A part-time legislature would enable citizen lawmakers to bring valuable professional experience to the legislative process. And term limits have created instability to the process and an inexperienced legislature that is unable to govern effectively, he said.

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