County, city officials eye recall impact

September 03, 2003 11:00 pm

By ABBY SOUZA

and JOSHUA WOLFSON

Besides shaking up Sacramento, a recall of Gov. Gray Davis could also rattle city halls and county courthouses throughout California.

The most prominent of the 135 candidates on the Oct. 7 recall ballot have proposals that could affect local government finances, say Tuolumne County and Sonora city officials.

Others say the election could be a wake up call for a state government that has been swiping local government revenues for years.

Tuolumne County Supervisors Paolo Maffei and board Chairman Mark Thornton are paying close attention to how candidates say they'll handle budget issues, because "county government is being bled to pay for the state's shortfalls," Maffei said.

A major issue is vehicle license fees.

Thornton said most of the leading contenders — including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom McClintock and Arianna Huffington — want to cut the recent hike in vehicle license fees.

Democratic front-runner Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has also suggested reducing the fees, often referred to as the car tax, on vehicles valued at $20,000 or less.

"That could put local government in a tailspin," Thornton said.

Four years ago, with near-record budget surpluses, the Legislature reduced vehicle license fees. Because a portion of that money had always gone to counties and cities, the state made up for the lost revenue with other funds,

However, the reduction included a provision that if the state went into debt, the fees could be restored. That happened July 1, but local governments won't see any money until next month.

Assistant County Administrator Craig Pedro said if the winner of the recall election convinces legislators to do away with the VLF increase, the county's general fund would take a $2 million hit.

"The VLF is not a very popular fee," Pedro said, making it easy for a gubernatorial candidate to gain support by promising to reduce it.