Keene: Plan ‘fairly balanced’
As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger handed his $99 billion 2004-05 budget to the state Legislature Friday, Assemblyman Rick Keene, the lead Republican on the Budget Committee, said the proposal was “fairly balanced.”
“We have a $14 billion hole to fill. We are in a crisis,” said Chico-based Keene, who represents Nevada County. “We’re going to have to look at every possible option.”
A possible hurdle for the governor’s budget is a proposed property tax shift, which would see local governments contribute $1.3 billion to help fund public schools. But Keene, vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, and other legislators said that a shift of funds could hurt essential services like police and fire protection on the local level.
“That is money local governments are being asked to contribute,” Keene said. “That doesn’t sit well with me.”
If the property tax shift makes it through the budget process, Keene said he would work toward lessening the state mandates cities and counties must abide by when spending property tax revenues.
“I hope we can get that as a piece of the budget solution,” he said. “So counties have more discretion.”
In addition to the $1.3 billion property tax shift, the governor proposes a $4 billion replacement, or “backfill,” to counties for the car tax he repealed on taking office. County governments rely heavily on the revenue from the vehicle registration fees to fund a variety of services, said Jenny Oropeza, D-Carson, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee.
“It doesn’t serve the people of California to seriously underfund local governments,” Oropeza said. “This type of dangerous shell game, where we give money through the vehicle license fee backfill and then take it away through property taxes, may result in weakening our public safety network.”
Keene said that in the past, with the Democrats controlling the Senate, Assembly and governor’s office, the Republicans were largely marginalized in the Legislature. But with Schwarzenegger in office, things are “dramatically different.”
“It has been very stilted,” Keene said. “Now that there is a Republican governor, (Democrats) have to take these issues up seriously.”
Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, called the governor’s proposal a “good budget.” Through a deal between Schwarzenegger and state education groups, public schools will get half of the $4 billion owed to them. But both Aanestad and Keene noted that school administrators will have more say in how they spend the money.
“School districts are going to have more money to spend on kids in the classroom,” Aanestad said. “They’re going to be able to have more local control as to how those local monies are being spent.”
Oropeza, meanwhile, said Friday’s budget submittal is a starting point. She noted that it will take the approval for two-thirds of both the Assembly and Senate to pass.
“It is now the Legislature’s job to craft the budget,” she said. “What matters is what the budget looks like when it is signed at the end of the legislative process.”
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