Article President’s Message Robin Lowe

Stand Up for What’s Right: Reform Efforts Depend on You

The League’s board of directors met in November 2009 to set the organization’s strategic priorities for 2010. This process helps us frame our agenda for the coming year and create an action plan.

 Last year, every city in California was hit hard by the recession and the state’s grim fiscal outlook. Local officials grappled with the effects of revenue shortfalls, growing unemployment, volatile financial markets and foreclosures. Not a single city went unscathed as local officials were forced to cut vital community services and personnel in response to California’s record budget deficits.

As city officials, we are all too familiar with the state’s propensity for taking, borrowing and diverting local revenues to backfill the gaping hole created by the budget deficit. California has now reached a point where the dysfunction of state government threatens the very safety and well-being of our communities and residents. This is simply unacceptable, and we must take action.

Reform Is Front and Center in League’s Goals for 2010

Here are the League’s strategic goals for 2010:

Protect Local Control and Funding for Vital Local Services. Use statewide ballot measure and legislative and legal advocacy to achieve reforms that protect local control and abolish the power of the state to borrow, divert or impose restrictions on the use of all local revenue sources, including locally imposed or levied taxes, the local shares of all transportation tax revenues (including public transit funding), the redevelopment tax increment, and any other local revenue source used to fund vital local services.

Support Reform of the Structure, Governance, Management and Financing of State Government. Build on the success of the 2009 Local Government Summit on State Governance Reform by working collaboratively with other stakeholder groups to advance reforms to modernize the structure, governance, management and method of financing state government.

Promote Economic Stimulus, Infrastructure Investment, Business Development and Job Creation. Promote federal, state and local investment in transportation, water, redevelopment and other critical infrastructure projects that will support the retention and creation of new private businesses and jobs in our cities and state.

Statewide Ballot Measure Focuses On Reform

The hard work of gathering signatures has begun for the ballot measure cosponsored by the League, the California Transit Association and the California Alliance for Jobs: the Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act. If passed by the voters the measure would close loopholes and prevent the state from borrowing, raiding or otherwise redirecting public transit funds and local government funds (local taxes, property taxes, redevelopment, transportation, Highway User’s Tax and Proposition 42 funds). In brief, the measure would:

  • Prohibit the state from taking, borrowing or redirecting local taxpayer funds dedicated to public safety, emergency response and other vital local government services, including redevelopment. The measure would close loopholes to prevent the state from taking local taxpayer funds currently dedicated to cities, counties and special districts, and it would also revoke the state’s authority to borrow local government property tax funds or divert local redevelopment funds.
  • Protect vital, dedicated transportation and public transit funds from state raids. The measure would prevent state borrowing, taking or redirecting of the state sales tax on gasoline (Prop. 42 funds) and Highway User’s Tax (HUTA) funds that are dedicated to transportation maintenance and improvements. It would also prevent the state from redirecting or taking public transit funds.
  • Apply retroactively to any legislation enacted between Oct. 20, 2009, and Election Day (Nov. 2, 2010), invalidating any state law passed between those dates that conflicts with the ballot measure. In the event the state violates this measure in the future, the measure provides that funds will be appropriated automatically from the state’s General Fund to restore to the local and transportation programs the amount unlawfully taken.

Our Success Depends on Your Help

The success of this effort depends on the involvement of every city official — on their own time and without the use of public resources — to gather signatures, raise funds for the campaign and educate the community about what is at stake.

For many decades, California’s city governments have worked within state government to protect local revenues, local control and local services, and it is abundantly clear today that this approach is no longer working. The concerns and needs of local communities and our residents are nowhere near the top of the State of California’s priority list. Even though a majority of legislators in the Capitol formerly served in local government office, the byzantine and outdated laws and traditions under which state government operates prevent any meaningful change from occurring. The gridlock that has come to characterize state government is clearly not serving the best long-term interests of our state and its citizens.

We have to stand up and say, “This is wrong. Don’t continue to balance the state budget with local funds!” This ballot measure provides us with the way to close the remaining loopholes and prevent the Legislature and governor from diverting and borrowing the local revenues needed to provide quality local services.

Our communities have all been negatively affected by the state’s unwillingness to reform its outdated governance practices that consistently put the interests of Californians at risk. We, as elected officials and local leaders, have to take this issue to the voters. We know they are sympathetic. We know they are suffering from dramatic cuts to police and fire services, parks and recreation programs, libraries, senior centers and all of the vital community services that underpin our quality of life.

I urge you to educate as many people as you can reach — on your own time and without using public resources. Explain the measure, point out the urgency of the situation, get people to sign in support of the measure and then ask them to do the same. Give them the petitions and enlist their help in spreading the word and gathering signatures.

If we sit on the sidelines and don’t participate in this effort, then we have lost the right to complain about the situation when state leaders try to take every penny that is unprotected.

It’s Your Duty

As an elected representative of your city, it’s your duty to make sure your city is fairly represented and protected in an unfair system. You can’t do much for your city if your local treasury is getting raided every summer by the State of California when it’s time to pass the state budget.

It’s time to stand up and do the right thing for our cities and our residents. Let’s put the issue of protecting funding for local services before the voters and let them decide. We need all hands on deck now to qualify this measure and win in November. Spread the word, and stand up for what’s right.

For More Information
Visit for tools and information to help educate your community about the Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act.

This article appears in the February 2010 issue of Western City
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