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Legislators Lend Supervisors an Ear : Government: County contingent told that Wilson's budget proposal would devastate local services. Lawmakers go away with 'ammunition' for funding fight in capital.


SANTA ANA — At the first of two "summit" meetings to discuss the state budget's impact on county services, the Board of Supervisors complained Friday to the county's state legislators that the state raids its wallet and begged for help to survive the budget crunch.

Predicting a $136-million shortfall if Gov. Pete Wilson's budget proposal passes, the supervisors painted a bleak picture of the county's financial health. They gave lawmakers a hefty booklet of full-color charts and graphs detailing the county's budget woes to use as lobbying "ammunition" in Sacramento.

The two-hour powwow had an air of cooperation and congeniality, a marked departure from a year marked by supervisors' blasting state lawmakers for balancing their budget on the backs of local agencies.

"We need to better understand what you do in Sacramento . . . and believe you need to know more about county government," Board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder told the eight state lawmakers seated around the conference table. "I hope this is just the beginning of our dialogue (and that) we can sit down and solve these problems together.

"What might come out of this is that our Orange County delegation will be the best informed of the state Legislature because it's my impression that state legislators are not very well informed in local government," Wieder said. "So now you'll be armed."

The legislators listened as each supervisor presented a slice of the appeal, then asked for concrete examples of potential savings to use as lobbying tools.

"Anything you can provide on paper that is credible," Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress) suggested.

"You want ammunition, right?" Wieder said, laughing.

"Right, ammunition," Allen responded.

Of Orange County's 10 state senators and Assembly members, only Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), who was nominated by Wilson last month as state superintendent of schools, and newly elected Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove) missed the meeting.

The eight legislators heard supervisors complain that because the state shifts some property tax revenues to schools, Orange County is left with only 18% of its property taxes, the smallest percentage of any California county. Having already cut 1,000 government jobs--many through attrition and early retirement plans--the supervisors warned that if the state takes more local revenue away, the county will have to slash services.

"We're going to have to manage our services instead of being like dogs fighting over a bone," Wieder said.

Admitting that they were "preaching to the choir," the local lawmakers spent much of the morning talking about state and federal government regulations that make some of their operations more costly. They said they could save money by using private companies to provide more local services.

Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez bragged that Orange County already contracts out for about $800 million worth of services, and said the county could easily cut $8 million from its budget if the state permitted it to use private companies to provide institutional food and custodial services.

Newly appointed Supervisor William G. Steiner groaned about the "pages" of state and federal rules that "give us grief" when trying to provide cost-effective services.

"I think that the five members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors are going to make the right decision at least as often as the state Legislature--if not twice as often," Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-Fullerton) joked, supporting the idea of cutting back state and federal mandates.

The state lawmakers will host a second "summit" with the supervisors on May 19 in Sacramento.

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