Gov. Brown to cities: Stop your sobbing!

At a League of California Cities luncheon last week, Gov. Brown harrumphed that this was no time for “turf wars,” telling attendees they needed to deep-six their “narrow perspectives.”

All of this might have sounded lofty and high-minded, as the governor explained the current budget shortfall, except that it was his very own proposed budget that started the turf wars.  Specifically, Brown wants to lessen the state’s financial load by forcing municipalities to take over some of the responsibilities that the state handles now. This includes handling and housing juveniles and adults in the prison system, mental health services, welfare services, and much more. He also wants to end redevelopment plan funding by the state in the future and to raid that current funding now to pay other bills. 

Who could possibly have imagined that cities would protest at being told they would have more financial obligations (with promised but uncertain partial funding from the state), and that funding to renew their blighted areas would be killed? Of course they will howl and quite possibly, rightfully so.

And for this they get accused of fomenting turf wars?

In a delightful piece of apparently unintended irony, Gov. Brown said this at a Hyatt which itself had been a beneficiary of redevelopment project funds. This really does seem like a Monty Python comedy routine, doesn’t it?

In addition to riled-up city officials, Brown must also contend with the large elephant in the room that will rampage should voters reject continuation of tax hikes in June.  That pachyderm says Dan Walters is the powerful California Teachers Association. Educational spending currently accounts for at least 40% of the state budget and has not been targeted in the first round of budget cuts. But if the June vote fails, cuts in education are expected to be huge. The elephant will then rampage. As prison spending would be cut then too, another elephant, this one from the equally powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association, will also join in the festivities.

It’s difficult to envision how this can end up any place but the inevitable budget train wreck that California has each year. However, there is one difference this year. The clock is running out and the usual evasions and kicking the problem into next year are no longer working. Outside events, like another downgrade in California debt, may force the state to take far more drastic measures. After all, Gov. Brown hasn’t addressed the $81 billion in unfunded public pension debt this year or how much is being paid to service debt.

Sooner or later, California will deal with them.