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Local Elections / L.A. County Board of Supervisors

Candidates talk about financial issues

May 29, 2008

The Times asked the two major candidates competing to succeed Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke about some key issues in the 2nd Supervisorial District, which stretches from Mar Vista through South Los Angeles and into Compton and Carson.

Today, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks and state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) offer their take on the county's financial picture.

This is the last in a series before Tuesday's election.

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County officials have proposed a $21.9-billion budget for the coming fiscal year that is 2.61% lower than the current budget but calls for no layoffs or major program cuts. If threatened reductions in state and federal funds require big reductions in county spending, where would you cut, and what services should get priority?

Parks: More often than not, the state and federal mandates are not fully funded. County programs ranging from substance abuse and crime prevention programs to Medi-Cal provider rates suffered a loss of $25.9 million when the governor and Legislature tried to balance the state's current-year deficit in February. The governor's proposal to balance next year's budget would reduce the county's funds by an additional $332 million.

At the federal level, the county faces a loss of $240 million in Medicaid revenue [and likely] substantial reductions to health, community development, justice, homeland security and social programs administered by the county.

Where a state or federal program requires a local funding match, reductions by the county should generally correspond to the state or federal program that is cut. Priority protection should be afforded those programs that are part of the basic safety net of services, such as child welfare services, food stamp administration, adult protective services, homeless services, mental health services and foster care.

The county itself is entering a precarious fiscal time. The county also has upward of $20 billion in unfunded liability obligations in pension and retiree healthcare costs.

The county must implement new budget policies, similar to those I proposed and implemented in the city of Los Angeles and the MTA. They are: (A) create a multi-year timeline to monitor and eliminate the existing structural deficit; (B) eliminate deficit spending programming; (C) eliminate the creation of ongoing programs that do not have a specific source of ongoing funding; (D) establish specific funding priorities for core responsibilities and obligatory expenses like public safety, prevention and intervention programs, infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, personnel health plans and pension contributions, etc.; (E) minimize or eliminate spending one-time monies on multi-year projects; (F) eliminate or minimize borrowing money to meet operating expenses or incur deficits and then borrow money to pay it off; (G) establish debt policies and a debt-ceiling percentage; (H) establish a reserve fund percentage with specific designations for declared emergencies, contingencies and budget stabilization funds; (I) establish mutual gains bargaining in future employee contract negotiations; (J) establish full cost-recovery policies for county services where appropriate; and (K) ensure that all contract services and grant applications have full recovery for both salary and administrative overhead.

Ridley-Thomas: If threatened reductions in state or federal funds trigger a need to make sizable cuts at the county level, I would work to make public safety, health services, foster care and delivery of municipal services to the unincorporated county areas of the district my priorities for funding.

No matter how deep any proposed or potential cuts may be from another level of government, L.A. County must always be in a position to tell its residents, "We will do our utmost to fulfill our county's obligations to keep you safe from harm and protect your property 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Before specific program cuts are contemplated, comprehensive budget reform at both the state and local level that reevaluates revenue sources and expenditures, and realigns funding streams to services provided by each level of government, must take place.

We must pursue a strategic approach to budgeting issues that should include the formation of public-private partnerships to lessen the strains on county funding.

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Under what circumstances, and for which services, would you be willing to ask voters for a tax or fee increase?

Parks: The county's fee structure needs to be evaluated annually . . . to assure that the fees charged by the county are properly aligned with the costs of providing the service, assuring the full recovery of costs for services.

The county's concession agreements also warrant periodic review to assure that the county is getting a fair return on third-party operation of its golf courses and airports and beach and marina concessions, for example.

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