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Sheriffs Lobby Wilson for State Funds : Budget: But governor is not willing to extend half-cent sales tax, which they are seeking to avert cutbacks, spokesmen say.


Several sheriffs from around the state joined Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block on Wednesday in pressing Gov. Pete Wilson to free state funds to avert closing jails, releasing prisoners and laying off deputies.

But spokesmen for the governor said there is no likelihood that Wilson will go along with the sheriffs' ideas.

Soon after Block announced Wednesday that he would close the Mira Loma jail facility in the Antelope Valley on May 15 and release about 1,150 of the county's 21,000 jail inmates unless his department gets budgetary relief, leaders in the California State Sheriff's Assn. said that sheriffs from across the state will go to Sacramento on Wednesday to lobby for state aid.

Fifty-two of California's 58 sheriffs, including Block, met in Palm Springs last week to plot a strategy to avoid massive cutbacks. Their main proposal calls for legislation to continue a half-cent sales tax that is scheduled to expire June 30. They want part of the $1.5 billion collected annually from the additional taxes to be earmarked for law enforcement and county prisons.

But Franz Wisner, a spokesman for Wilson, said the governor has no intention of asking that the tax be carried forward.

"The governor has been and is currently adamantly opposed to extending the temporary sales tax increase," Wisner said. "When the tax was enacted two years ago, a promise was made to the people of California that it would be temporary. The governor intends to keep that promise."

Block said he talked to Wilson about the proposal two weeks ago, and the governor also said no then. But Solano County Sheriff Al Cardozo, leader of the sheriffs' association, said Wednesday that most sheriffs believe there is little alternative if massive layoffs and prisoner releases are to be avoided.

Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer, saying he will have to lay off 338 of his force of 1,300 unless relief comes, called upon Wilson to reconsider and explain to the people that it is necessary to extend the half-cent sales tax to avert catastrophe.

"I can tell you, if they go through with present budget plans, nobody's going to be safe," he said.

Another way to get the needed funds, Block and other sheriffs said, would be for law enforcement to be allocated some of a $220-million increase Wilson has requested in the next fiscal year for the state Corrections Department.

However, another administration spokesman, H.D. Palmer, said that with a projected increase of 6,000 state prisoners next year--to a total of 119,000--all of that money is needed by state institutions. He said the state prison system is operating at 173% of planned capacity.

Block and the other sheriffs said they are in an increasingly desperate budget crunch, with county boards of supervisors notifying them that scaling back state aid means they must impose huge cuts.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ed Williams said, "The proposed cut in this county is roughly 50% of our entire field force, 26 deputy positions. . . . I can't close our only jail."

Siskiyou County Sheriff Charles Byrd said he anticipates laying off eight of his field force of 40. "I think extending the half-cent sales tax would be a great step forward, and it would be paid for by tourists from other states as well," he said.

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