by Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean
The start of a New Year is an important time to reflect upon the past and make resolutions for the future. As Santa Clarita’s Mayor Pro-tem, part of that reflection for me includes an evaluation of our City and region, and deciding what changes we as your locally elected representatives need to make to improve the quality of services provided to local residents.
As I continue to speak to Santa Clarita residents about the State League of California Cities Petition, it is evident that voters are extremely tired of having local services threatened by the fact that the State Legislature can’t balance its own budget.
The City Council has made sure that Santa Clarita’s budget is balanced and a 15% reserve continues to be maintained. Clearly, 478 cities have had enough, so on behalf of the State League, I present the following:
This year, more than ever, it is increasingly clear that in order to protect and improve the services we provide Santa Clarita residents, we must take action to stop the State’s irresponsible practice of raiding, borrowing or otherwise redirecting funds dedicated to local governments, including cities, counties and special districts.
Despite the fact that California voters have passed a previous measure to stop State politicians from taking local government funds, State lawmakers continue to seek out and exploit loopholes in the law to borrow, raid or shift city and county funds for State purposes.
To stop such raids, I have joined with a coalition of local elected officials, public safety officials, business and labor leaders, public transit and transportation advocates that recently began collecting signatures to qualify the “Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act” for California’s November 2010 statewide ballot.
If passed, this measure will close loopholes and prevent the State from borrowing or taking local government funds, including funds for Santa Clarita. It also protects the existing gas taxes we pay at the pump- taxes that voters dedicated to public transit services as well as transportation improvements like pothole and road safety repairs.
California’s cities, counties and special districts provide the most important services that we all rely upon, including fire protection and emergency response services, law enforcement, parks, libraries, and after school programs for at-risk youth.
Local governments also run community health clinics, operate public hospitals, and provide senior services, welfare and social services for low-income families. We operate public transit systems, which provide bus, rail and shuttle services that get families to work, school, medical appointments or the grocery store.
But these vital local services have taken a devastating hit in recent years, in part because of the sagging economy, but also in large part because state lawmakers have raided billions of dollars in local government funds year after year.
In the most recent budget cycle alone, State lawmakers borrowed approximately $2 billion in property taxes from local governments, took $2.05 billion in local redevelopment funds vital to providing affordable housing, jobs and economic growth in urban areas; and shifted $910 million in transit funding away from local transit agencies.
Because of State raids and our own budgetary issues, we at the City had to enact a hiring freeze and currently have 29 positions frozen. For a workforce of 350 full-time employees, that is about an 8.5% reduction in our employee base. Plans to build a new gymnasium at the Sports Complex, and the design and construction of a new community center in Canyon Country have been put on hold.
By stopping State raids of local government and transportation funds, the Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act will keep more of our local tax dollars local, thus providing more accountability to local residents. It will also safeguard vital public safety, transportation and other local government services from further devastating cuts.
More than 1 million signatures need to be collected to ensure this measure makes the statewide ballot. We encourage you to seek out the signature gatherers wherever you see them and sign the petition. Request a petition online and get more information at www.savelocalservices.com.
As we look back on 2010 twelve months from now, it will be rewarding to know that we banded together with the voters of California to protect local taxpayers and local government services from continued State raids.