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O'Connell, Kildee Urge State Tax Reform : Editor's Note

September 05, 1993|Tina Daunt | Times staff writer

A budget crisis in Sacramento has come home to roost in Ventura County, where local spending cuts have affected everything from welfare payments to library hours.

The hit came when the state helped meet its commitment to schools by taking $2.6 billion in property tax money away from counties and cities. The Legislature helped buffer the blow by keeping a temporary half-cent sales tax in place through December. But the transfer still cost Ventura County government $13.8 million.

Voters in November will be asked to keep the half-cent tax in effect. Otherwise, county government leaders have warned, there will be even more cuts in services.

The Ventura County Edition of The Times asked two elected officials--one from the county and one from the state--to sit down together to discuss the issues. They are Supervisor Maggie Kildee, immediate past chairwoman of the board, and Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Jack O'Connell, who represents parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Tina Daunt, a Times staff writer, acted as moderator. Here is an edited transcript of the exchange.

*

MODERATOR: Some critics argue that the government has not taken the right approach in solving its budget problems. What are the best methods for fixing state and local fiscal woes?

SUPERVISOR KILDEE: I have to confess that I do believe it's broken. I don't think we have a very effective method of paying for the services that people in our county want to have. It seems to me that the individuals in the county are paying taxes, and there ought to be enough money to cover the services that they want. There was until a portion of those taxes was taken away.

ASSEMBLYMAN O'CONNELL: We need significant structural reform in government. The state is responsible for many things. There was a policy decision made last year to continue to fund education through the property tax shift. But about $15 billion roughly goes to education. About $13 billion goes to local government. About $3 billion goes to the Department of Corrections. About $2 billion goes to UC (University of California system). About a billion and a half goes to CSU (California State University system). Close to $2 billion goes to the bonds and indebtedness of the state. And there's about $1 billion in state operations.

So when people say, "You just need to cut"--well, where do you cut? The joke was you could release 110,000 felons, which no one is suggesting. You could close all 10 UC campuses, which nobody is suggesting. You could close all 20 CSU campuses, and you still would not retire the deficit. So most of the state money goes to help education and local government, prisons and higher education.

What we really need to do is identify what level of government is responsible for certain services. Right now local governments have most of the responsibility and very little authority over the level of service most can provide.

KILDEE: In terms of structural reform, we need to sit down and look at the services that need to be provided by government. Then we ought to determine what level of government ought to provide them. Right now, we have cities and the county providing police services and sheriff services. Although we are not overlapping, both government levels are providing these services. We need to determine who is going to be responsible for that and have the money flow to that entity. Not to both entities.

I think clearly library services is an area we must address. It is not a county mandate to provide libraries. It is not a school mandate. It is not a city mandate. It is not a state mandate. Yet, the people of this county have said this is a high priority to them. And yet, because of the property tax shift, we had to cut the library's budget almost in half in this county.

O'CONNELL: It's a shame. And it would have been worse had we not continued the half-cent sales tax for six months. That's a definite revenue stream. We have legislation this year to enable voters to go out and tax themselves per parcel for libraries. Right now libraries are not eligible for benefit assessment districts.

KILDEE: How do you explain to people . . . that they perhaps ought to support a benefit assessment district for the library, when they say to me: "We are already paying our taxes. We had a library last year, why don't we have a library this year? Why do we have to pay more money?"

O'CONNELL: Well, I give them your home phone number.

KILDEE: (Laughing) Thanks a lot. No wonder my phone has been ringing so much.

O'CONNELL: It's priorities. We have 100,000 more youngsters in kindergarten through 12th grade this past year and we are expecting over 100,000 more to enroll next week. Our prison population continues to increase. So there are structural problems within the state budget and more demands.

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