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'Tea Party' simmers to a boil

Los Angeles might join 26 other counties in tax revolt

Posted: February 18, 2009 12:55 a.m.
Updated: February 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
‘Southern California's "Boston Tea Party" appears to be reaching a boiling point as more than two dozen counties band together to sue the state over billions of dollars of withheld funds.

For the third consecutive week Tuesday, Los Angeles County supervisors met behind closed doors to discuss their legal options when it comes to withholding a half-billion dollars it owes to the state.

Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas Tuesday to explore the feasibility of setting up a reserve to address cash flow delays that occur when the county deals with funding grants from agencies that do not reimburse in a timely way.

Los Angeles County joined 26 others in a lawsuit launched by Riverside County over the state controller's decision to defer $3.5 billion in county-bound payments - including $1.4 billion to Los Angeles - until lawmakers close a $42-billion deficit.

"L.A. will join 26 other counties on an existing lawsuit launched by Riverside because most of the counties are feeling the same way," said the spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who earlier this month led the charge for a "Boston Tea Party" tax revolt and urged fellow supervisors to withhold a half-billion dollars of tax money owed to the state.

Some of the other counties taking part in the Riverside lawsuit include Orange, San Diego, Imperial and San Bernardino counties.

The supervisors agreed to consider using electronic money transfers to expedite matters when it comes to state and federal funds sent to the county.

Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, said Tuesday's private session was to allow lawyers to update supervisors on the state budget situation.

"We are waiting for the state budget," Bell said. "The state's inaction is going to cause a great impact on the county.

"Our concern is for public safety," he said. "We're hopeful for a swift solution."

Two weeks ago, Molina, representing the county areas of Azusa and Pomona, called her plan to withhold the county's tax money owed to the state as her own, "Boston Tea Party right here in Los Angeles County."

Under her plan, the county would withhold a half-billion dollars it would regularly pay to the state.

"Why should we have to suffer for Sacramento's mess?" asked Roxane Marquez, Molina's deputy press officer. "We have been very fiscally prudent in good years so that when the bad storm comes we'd be able to weather it.

"It's a shame, that it's all turned to outrage," she said. "We did have a major setback this week when the state did not pass its budget. The question becomes ‘What are we going to do now?'"

While supervisors discussed legal consequences of monies withheld, California lawmakers gathered in Sacramento in another bid to end the state's budget stalemate, as the state was poised to start laying off as many as 20,000 government workers.

After frustrating weekend sessions that failed to break the one-vote impasse preventing them from passing a budget compromise, legislative leaders said they planned to put the tax increases in the package up for a vote Tuesday.

In addition to the layoffs, the state planned to halt all remaining public works projects, which would throw nearly 92,000 construction workers out of work. Tax refunds already have been delayed because the state has no money to pay them.

"It is clear there is going to be catastrophic consequences for Californians if we don't get it done today," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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