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Critics Attack New Law Before Ink Is Dry : Cities Shortchanged in Property Taxes Get Aid

October 01, 1987|MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A bill signed into law last weekend by Gov. George Deukmejian will provide 43 Los Angeles County cities with about $3.3 million in extra revenue next year, but critics have already complained that the law fails to spell out standards for awarding the funds.

"It looks as though it's a smorgasbord of cities without any rationale," said Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), chairwoman of the Senate Local Government Committee.

The new law, which is linked to a major overhaul of state court funding, will aid cities with little or no property tax revenue. The amount will be increased 10% each year for the next decade.

Setting Criteria

In the South Bay, the law will aid Carson, El Segundo, Lawndale, Lomita, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates.

In an interview this week, Bergeson said that when the Legislature reconvenes in January she plans to introduce a bill "that will set specific criteria" for cities to receive aid. As a result, cities with substantial reserves could get less than expected.

Further, Bergeson voiced reservations about the way the aid to the cities was hastily inserted into the court reform bill last month--on the last night of the 1987 legislative session.

"I have a major concern about how it was handled," Bergeson said, adding that neither she nor her committee was consulted about the specific legislation.

Revamp Necessary

Instead, the provision to aid the cities was hammered out in private discussions among Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. They linked it to the bill to shift the burden of trial court costs from counties to the state and create 109 judgeships.

Before the cities become eligible for the aid, Los Angeles County must agree to the funding shift. If the Board of Supervisors agrees, the county would get approximately 14 Superior Court judgeships and eight Municipal Court judgeships. Of the municipal court judges, four would be in downtown Los Angeles and one each in the Antelope Valley, Compton, East Los Angeles and the South Bay.

Lois Wallace, a spokeswoman for the state Finance Department, said that the Deukmejian administration did not have a strong opinion about aid to the cities but believed it was necessary to sign the bill to revamp court funding.

"We just didn't feel we could delay it (court reform) another year," Wallace said.

Deukmejian signed the bill, carried by Sen. William Lockyer (D-Hayward), into law on Saturday. When it takes effect next year, it could free about $375 million statewide for other programs, including aid to cities that levy little or no property tax.

These cities maintain that they have been caught in a fiscal pinch since 1978 when the tax-cutting Proposition 13 won passage. It made it difficult for the cities to impose new taxes, and the cities say they have grown but have not had the new revenue to pay for services.

However, critics contend that many of the cities have plenty of money and do not need the extra revenue.

The aid will be phased in, with cities getting 10% more each year for the next 10 years. When fully implemented, statewide the law will cost about $220 million a year, according to legislative estimates.

In other actions this week, Deukmejian:

- Allowed to become law without his signature a bill by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) setting aside about $5.9 million in state tidelands oil revenues to a variety of projects. Among the items is $600,000 to the state Coastal Conservancy to rebuild or repair the Manhattan Beach Pier.

- Signed a measure by Assemblyman Gerald Felando (R-San Pedro) which extends state sales and use tax exemptions for certain commercial deep-sea fishing and passenger fishing boat operators.

- Signed a bill by Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose) that splits about $20 million in revenue from oil drilling on state tidelands. Among the projects is $200,000 for the City of Los Angeles for improvements at Harbor Lake in Wilmington. Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-Long Beach) had, without success, sought the funds for two years.

- Vetoed a bill by Elder that would have allocated at least $15 million from a proposed 1988 transportation bond measure for the construction of sound walls to reduce noise in neighborhoods that adjoin freeways.

In his veto message, Deukmejian said: "I do not believe it is appropriate to elevate the importance of the construction of sound walls over road capacity improvement projects by guaranteeing that a minimum amount be spent on sound-wall construction."

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