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Final Budget Agreement Announced, Votes Expected Tuesday

Got Transparency?

June 22, 2012

Legislative Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown announced Thursday that they had reached agreement on the final details of the budget, which will be included in more than 20 trailer bills that are still not in print. Budget hearings are expected on Monday, with floor votes on Tuesday.

 

Last Friday, legislators adopted the budget bill and six less controversial trailer bills, even though some outstanding issues remained to be resolved. It appears their inspiration for acting was the recently passed Proposition 25, which allows for budgets and associated trailer bills to be passed with a majority vote, and contains a provision that requires legislators to forfeit their pay for every day the budget is late following the previously ignored Constitutional deadline of June 15. Perhaps the new pattern will be to pass something by June 15 each year, then finalize details later.

With significant Democrat majorities in each house and a Democrat governor, Prop. 25 made the process of passing a budget much easier than the previous two-thirds vote standard. Republican legislators have been relegated to the role of bystanders. It would seem that – given that Democrats can pass whatever they want – there would be no harm in providing transparency on the details of the budget, but the process has now become more secretive than ever. The Sacramento Bee’s editorial today addresses the effects of Prop. 25 and how its deteriorating the state budget process.

In the Capitol, government transparency seems to be a principle best applied to others. Legislators responded with outrage to the city of Bell scandal and introduced more than 30 bills in 2011. While it was unfair and inaccurate to associate the actions in one city with the conduct of all others, city officials took the lumps and the League worked to expand local government transparency through various pieces of legislation and the Controller’s website that now lists all local government salary information. However, with many legislators, when it comes to the transparency of their own process – including the basic idea that such significant legislation should be in print – silence reigns.

Final Details on Redevelopment Trailer Bill Remain Hidden
Aggressive DOF Sales Tax/Property Tax Offset Provision Likely Included

City officials have heard all the reports, but what are the details in this rumored 90-page bill? The reports say there will be some “good things” in the bill: previously entered city-agency loans can be repaid, unspent bond proceeds can be used for their intended purposes, and important community assets can be retained. The question remains, what conditions are attached to these offerings and are they palatable? Local officials have also heard about the “bad things” that supposedly remain in the measure including a proposal by the Department of Finance (DOF) to intercept local sales and use tax or property tax revenues for amounts in dispute. 

Not only would such a provision be illegal, it could financially destabilize some communities and cause even more rounds of service cuts at the local level. DOF is not an impartial party. The agency has a desperate agenda to “score” funds for the state budget. Language released by DOF more than a month ago indicates that DOF seeks such authority over local actions DOF staff deems “improper.” Improper is a subjective terms compared to “illegal,” which would require DOF to establish an actual violation of law. The League has argued that disputes must be handled with due process, that no sanctions should be imposed on any agency unless a Court has determined that a violation of the law has occurred.

The League obtained an outline of the contents of the redevelopment trailer bill Thursday. This summary was written by legislative staff for Democrat caucus members, so is likely designed to highlight features they deem important. Once language is obtained, the League’s analysis of the contents could read much differently.

Action Items for City Officials:

  • Ask your legislator if they have seen the language and if they know the details of how this 90-page bill will affect their community.
  • Explain what’s at stake for your city on redevelopment dissolution issues.
  • Ask them to refuse to vote on the redevelopment trailer bill until they have a chance to read the language and understand how it will impact their cities.
  • Urge them to reject any authority being given to DOF or other parties to offset local sales tax or property tax. Explain what this could mean to your community.


 
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