Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Happenings: Tapped Out By State Budget Plan

I did a bit of a double take at the ATM yesterday. After putting my now antiquated Washington Mutual Card into the Chase machine, the screen displayed a message that California Registered Warrants (IOUs) were no longer being accepted. I found this disconcerting. It’s not that I had a registered warrant that I wanted to deposit. I’ve just always thought that a state with a trillion-and-a-half dollar economy ought to have enough cash on hand to pay its obligations. Of course, what we have instead is a massive budget deficit.

Earlier today, though, we heard encouraging news that California legislators and Governor Schwarzenegger had a budget break-through that could resolve the deficit without raising taxes or cutting important social services (insert disbelief here). The Signal[1] has been updating an article on this agreement as more details begin to emerge. Unfortunately, it seems that part of balancing the budget will involve raiding the coffers of Santa Clarita and other cities and counties throughout California. According to the Sacramento Bee[2], $4.7 Billion will be grabbed from cities, counties, and special districts.

The League of California Cities is appalled by this. The organization is one that Councilmember McLean has served with great enthusiasm over the past several years, and I'm sure that she will be making her dismay known over the coming days. So too (probably) will City Manager Ken Pulskamp, who is—brace yourself--"President Elect of the League of California Cities City Managers Department." The first paragraph of the League's press release from this morning is pasted below:

California’s legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have agreed on a proposal to “balance” the state budget with illegal raids of local government gas tax, public transit and redevelopment funds, according to recent court decisions and a legal analysis obtained by the League of California Cities, as well as a “loan” of local government property taxes that is unlikely to be repaid. By relying on illegal mechanisms and fund shifts, this budget resembles a Ponzi scheme that the League of California Cities condemns in the strongest possible terms. [3]

Assuming the budget deal is approved by the State, the seizure of local funds will present a significant challenge to the delivery of the City of SC’s services and projects. More importantly, though, this budget deal levels a tragic blow against the perceived power of Marsha McLean’s tap dancing. Several months ago, she posted a YouTube video in which she danced in a periwinkle pant suit and white tap shoes while warning state legislators to “stop tap dancing around the issues and act responsibly; you must not balance the state budget on the backs of cities and counties.”[4] Perhaps naively, I thought her spot was working, imagining her as a tap-dancing angel of fiscal resposibility on the shoulders of those in tense negotiations. I had a great deal of confidence in McLean's shuffles, ball-changes and brushes, but her message and dancing prowess appear to have gone unheeded in Sacramento. Perhaps if K-Puls and the CC had made more compelling clips themselves[4], the City's message would have been more persuasive.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about the implications this new budget balancing plan has for our City (i.e., inconvenience or disaster) if it gets passed. A vote could come as early as Thursday. At least our City Leaders knew this was coming. For now, I congratulate McLean on a battle well tapped but, it appears, lost.

[1]Here's the story over at TMS
[4]Here are links to all of the videos:
Tap-dancing, sassy Councilmember McLean
City Manager Pulskamp talks over drone of traffic
MayorDude with Council, attending

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