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ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : All Joking Aside, Brown Will Help O.C. : Legislature: Oft-sarcastic Assembly Speaker vows to take solutions seriously. He advocates no specific plans but does believe a state trustee will be mandatory.


SACRAMENTO — Assembly Speaker Willie Brown said Thursday that he has been "having a lot of fun" bashing Orange County of late, but that he fully intends to take the bankrupt county's problems seriously.

Brown, who in recent weeks has repeatedly assailed beleaguered county leaders with sarcastic broadsides, said he is undecided about proposals put forth recently to have the state either guarantee loans or directly loan money to help Orange County recover.

Earlier this week, Orange County Chief Executive Officer William J. Popejoy called on the state to provide loan guarantees so the county can get better rates on recovery bonds it plans to market. Meanwhile, a pair of state lawmakers have drafted a bill that would let county voters invite in a special panel headed by state Treasurer Matt Fong to shepherd recovery efforts and funnel loans directly from the state treasury.

Brown didn't venture a specific opinion on either proposal. But the powerful Democrat said any loan arrangement would have to be tied to the county accepting a state trustee, a provision that Brown laid out several weeks ago. As envisioned by Brown, a trustee would step in for the Board of Supervisors to make key decisions in the county's recovery efforts.

"I think they'll have to provide a trustee," Brown said. "I don't think the state should do anything for Orange County without imposing the same restrictions and limitations as we have imposed on every wayward sub-unit of government that's run into financial trouble."

He said that ex-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, former state Controller Ken Cory or retiring San Francisco Chief Executive Rudy Nothenberg, all Democrats, might be appropriate choices for such a post. Brown also once again suggested Orange County Supervisor Marian Bergeson, a Republican and longtime foe of the Speaker.

Even while adopting a far more serious tone about the county's financial crisis, which some state leaders fear could threaten California's municipal bond market, Brown couldn't help from poking some fun.

"You know what? I would lend to the homeless first--they have no debt," Brown said after Thursday's morning session.

But he quickly turned more earnest, saying that "although I'm having a lot of fun with them, I'm going to treat them as seriously as I would quake victims, flood victims or anybody else."

Brown again noted that none of Orange County's conservative legislative delegation was ever willing in the past to aid victims of natural disasters throughout the state, most notably after the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, when the subject turned to increasing taxes to help recover efforts.

"None of their legislators helped anyone else out," Brown said. "I'm not going to hold that against the people who elected those (Orange County lawmakers). I assume that they will appropriately deal with those (lawmakers) the next time they have the chance" at the polls.

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