San Diego to Sacramento: Don't Touch!

Budget crisis raises fears of state money grab

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and the County Board of Supervisors are joining forces in sending a sharp message to California's cash-strapped state government.

"We're not going to sit back and dump our local dollars down that bottomless black hole that is the state budget," is how Supervisor Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the county board phrased it.  "Not on our watch. We'll fight back."

Jacob and her colleagues held a special meeting Wednesday to send e-mails and letters to the four state senators and eight Assembly members who represent San Diego County constituents, protesting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to forcibly borrow upward of $2 billion in city and county property taxes to close a $24 billion-plus state budget deficit.

"What is being proposed is an unprecedented dumping of the state's budget crisis onto local governments," said Walt Eckard, the county's chief administrative officer, estimating that the state's borrowing plan could go as high as $8 billion -- with San Diego County giving up as much as $800 million.

Sanders, whose city stands to lose as much as of $60 million in property and state gas taxes to the state, warned lawmakers: "If [you] do something to us, we're really going to scream.... We will let people know who's responsible for shutting our facilities."

Augie Ghio, chairman of the county's Fire Chiefs Association, predicted that between state and local budget reductions now under consideration, 500 fewer fire engines would be available, statewide, as the fire-prone summer and fall weather approach.

"What does that mean to the public?" Ghio asked at a news conference following the special meeting. "More property losses, and more lives lost."

"They don't know how to say 'no';  they don't know how to prioritize," Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said. "The time for change has come."

Supervisor Bill Horn suggested privatizing or outsourcing work and services currently handled by CalTrans and the state department of motor vehicles, and sending illegal immigrants in state prisons and jails to private lockups in Mexico.

Jacob acknowledged that cities and counties have no immediate leverage to forestall a forced state borrowing scheme.

Besides studying legal action, "right now what we're doing is calling on 'people power,' the power of the people of San Diego to stand up and be be counted and fight back with us ... all we have is the 'bully pulpit' -- we're going to use it to sound off loud and clear," Jacob said.

The first direct, unequivocal response from the legislative delegation came from the office of State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth (R-36th District).

His spokeswoman issued a statement saying: "The senator is opposed to taking more money from local governments. He and Senate Republicans have already proposed structural fundamental reforms like budget accountability and performance, legislative sunshine and accountability, bureaucracy reduction, job creation and retention...."

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