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A Sliver of the Pie . . .

July 14, 1986

Los Angeles County is home to 8 million residents, a population that exceeds that of 42 states . The county must provide services to everyone who lives here. But there is not enough money to do the job.

The massive $6.98- billion budget, currently under consideration by the Board of Supervisors, won't pay for all the services that county residents need or want. The county has no authority to raise revenue, and both the federal and state governments have been stingy. So the supervisors are stuck with pretty hard choices.

Budget deliberations begin today, but 90% of the budget is determined by state mandates for welfare, health care and the justice system. Nearly 1 million residents are on welfare of some kind. Of the 74,000 county workers, 23,000 work for the health department. The county's expensive and expansive justice system includes the nation's largest court and jail system. The money for these programs cannot be shifted to solve other problems. Out of a $6.9-billion budget, only a sliver, $873.8 million, is truly discretionary.

The state government, which has the luxury of requiring services without paying for them, should provide more money. One measure, AB 4043, sponsored by Assemblyman Dominic L. Cortese (D-San Jose), would require the state to share one-quarter cent of the sales tax. The legislation, which is a fair proposition, is still alive in Sacramento. If it survives, the county could anticipate $165 million.

Another measure, AB 19, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove), has provided the framework for state financing for the courts, but the bill passed last year with no money attached. SB 2087, a court-reform measure, sponsored by Sen. Robert G. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach), would have provided $100 million for Los Angeles County, but the bill died. State relief makes sense. Why should it take years to hear a civil case in Los Angeles County and less time in another county?

The county is quite vulnerable to decisions by higher governments. The county health department is determining what programs and facilities face cuts because the governor vetoed $50 million designated for medically indigent adults--$20.5 million of it earmarked for Los Angeles. To compensate, the supervisors may have to use the $20 million proposed for reserves, leaving the county vulnerable to the expense of unanticipated judgments or overtime required to fight fires or floods.

The county also lost $67 million in federal revenue-sharing funds, though that was offset by the growth in property taxes generated by brisk housing sales and new construction.

Los Angeles County stretches 4,083 square miles from Malibu to Long Beach. The county provides basic municipal services, such as police and fire protection, for the unincorporated area and 42 municipalities. The county also runs Marina del Rey, 10 beaches, nearly 100 parks and some museums. In all, the county staffs 42 departments.

The $6.9-billion budget--prepared by James C. Hankla, the county's chief administrative officer--is balanced and requires no layoffs. Dividing the only slice unfettered by requirements will demand pragmatism and compassion.

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