Five years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the much-heralded hero for city council members, county supervisors and other local government officials, helping them achieve long-sought constitutional protections against raids by the state.
In the early 1990s, then-Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature compelled cities, counties and special districts to shift billions of dollars in property taxes to schools, relieving pressure on a deficit-ridden state budget.
After years of bickering among local governments and public worker unions over strategy, they launched a ballot measure to protect them from future raids. Signatures were gathered for an initiative, but Schwarzenegger hammered out a deal to place a softer alternative on the 2004 ballot.
Proposition 1A allowed the state to indirectly borrow property taxes in an emergency but also required them to be repaid. Its passage made Schwarzenegger a hero to local officials.
Fast-forward to 2009. Once again, the state is in a financial pickle, unable to float private loans while its expenditures far outstrip its revenue. And Schwarzenegger, local government's one-time champion, is being castigated because he wants to use Proposition 1A's emergency loophole to borrow $2 billion in local property taxes, plus slash health and welfare funds for counties and siphon off some of the gas taxes now going to cities and counties.
City, county and special district officials and their allies complained loudly to legislative budget writers Thursday that they face budget problems of their own and can't afford a raid by the state.
"We will fight tooth and nail to keep state resources flowing to our cities, our local governments, and, most importantly, to neighborhoods, communities and families across our state," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in Sacramento this week.
The conflict is another indication – as if we needed another – that California's governance has become impenetrably dense and largely unworkable, and needs a fundamental overhaul.
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