Shifting services to cities, counties, could cost more

By Senator Anthony Cannella
Thursday, February 24, 2011

Previously published at The Modesto Bee.

While Sacramento grapples with how to close our state's massive $25 billion budget deficit, cities and counties are understandably concerned about the discussions happening under the Capitol dome. As a former mayor, I know what a dramatic impact these conversations will have on local governments.

That's why it's no surprise to me that city and county officials have reacted so vehemently to some of the proposals made by the governor.

Local government budgets have already been stretched to the limit, and the prospect of taking on even more responsibilities while being forced to give up tools and resources is daunting, to say the least.

The governor proposes to shift many core government functions from the state level to the local level. Cities and counties would take on increased responsibility for incarcerating and monitoring both adult and juvenile criminals and parolees, providing mental health and substance abuse treatment services and managing care of vulnerable children and adults.

While the concept of locating such services closer to the people who use them is certainly worth discussion, there is grave concern these services will turn into more unfunded mandates for local governments.

With local public safety agencies in particular already overextended, adding to city and county caseloads might actually put families and communities at greater risk.

Also disconcerting is the proposal to eliminate both redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones, the two primary tools cities and counties in Central California have to attract new businesses and stimulate economic growth.

Local governments rely on redevelopment dollars to fund major projects, which in turn create local jobs. Every year, more than 300,000 jobs are supported by these funds, including 170,000 jobs in the still-struggling construction industry — jobs we can't afford to risk with unemployment standing at 17.6 percent in Stanislaus County and soaring past 12 percent statewide.

The elimination of enterprise zones would further stifle economic development and job growth by functioning as a tax on employers and job creators. Last year alone, enterprise zones helped save or create some 10,000 jobs every month across the state.

If we are to address our state's long- term financial problems, we must get to work now to stimulate long-term economic growth — and much of that growth will take root first in our communities.

But that growth will be all the slower under the heavy burden of new public safety and social service responsibilities, combined with the loss of job growth currently supported by enterprise zones and redevelopment agencies.

In short, these proposals taken together would make it extraordinarily difficult — nearly impossible — for local governments to make ends meet.

I've witnessed the tremendous work city and county officials do to meet the needs of the people they serve — people who are not only their constituents, but also their neighbors, their friends and their family members.

It's a culture of commitment I'm proud to bring with me to the Legislature, and it's chief among the reasons I'm working hard to ensure that local government officials from Central California have a voice in Sacramento.

City and county officials share our goal of addressing our state's budget crisis once and for all. There's no doubt we have much work to do in the weeks and months ahead to get our state's fiscal house in order, but I fully believe that with the help, support and input from our partners in local government, we will ultimately be successful.