Budget plans worry local leaders

June 23, 2003 12:00 am

By JOSHUA WOLFSON

Concerned they will bear the brunt of the state's massive budget deficit, a group of Sierra foothills governments have joined forces with hundreds of California organizations to protect local services.

Uniting under the name LOCAL — Leave Our Community Assets Local — the coalition of governmental agencies and civic groups hopes to convince state legislators to pass a constitutional amendment restricting how the state can take local public monies.

Mother Lode community leaders say they fear legislators will cut key revenue sources in an attempt to eliminate California's projected $38 billion deficit, forcing cutbacks in public safety or social services.

"We are not talking about trimming fat, we are talking about an amputation," said Tim Shearer, city administrator for Angels Camp.

Under the amendment, a two-step process would be required for the state to "borrow" monies from local governments. First, the governor would need to issue a proclamation declaring that the failure to borrow from local governments would have a significant impact on functions funded by the general fund.

In addition, the legislature would need to pass — by a two-thirds supermajority — a statute limiting the loan for only one year, to be paid back with interest.

If the amendment is passed as part of the state budget package, it would then go before voters for ratification.

The coalition plans to keep pressure on Sacramento to support the amendment, said Debbie Olson, a regional representative with the League of California Cities.

"We intend to hold their feet to the fire," she said.

Because they are not responsible for the state's budget problems, local governments should not be forced to shoulder the fiscal burden, Olson said.

"We are offended that the state government is basically balancing the budget on the backs of local governments," she said.

The state is creating its budget policy through the current budget crisis at the expense of local governments, said Craig Pedro, Tuolumne County assistant administrator.

"There is no thought going on here," he said. "There is no planning."