Wary officials weigh proposed budget cuts
Following the release of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget plan, officials with local agencies are cautiously breathing a sigh of relief.
Faced with a projected $14 billion deficit, Schwarzenegger last week proposed a 10 percent reduction in state programs across the board. But the budget ax doesn’t look like it will immediately affect the Tahoe Truckee area.
Local officials, however, remain wary and say they will keep a close eye on the Capital as the governor and state lawmakers forge a final budget agreement in the coming months.
“It is a proposal to the legislature, at this point,” said Superintendent Pam Armas of the Sierra State Parks district. “So we’re not exactly sure how it’s going to fall out.”
While 48 parks across California are slated to close with the governor’s proposed cuts, none are located in the Tahoe Basin or the Truckee area. In the Sierra district, two state parks are scheduled to be closed to the public ” Malakoff Diggins and Plumas Eureka.
“We’re confident that the rest of the parks will be maintained [in a manner] of which they can be proud of,” said Armas.
A recommendation to delay gas tax payments to local municipalities, buried in the “depths of that proposal,” could slash funding for street maintenance in the Town of Truckee, said Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook.
“That would have an impact on us,” Lashbrook said. “If it’s a delay, it may not be that serious.”
While the town’s budgeted revenues from gas taxes is “a big number” ” budgeted at $1.7 million for the 2007-08 fiscal year ” the severity of the recommended delay remains vague, Lashbrook said. The money could be held back for one to five months, and the proposal did not specify how much funding would be withheld.
“Could be small, could be big,” Lashbrook said.
But the state’s desire for local government funding to bail out the state budget shortfall concerns the town, especially after voters in 2004 approved Proposition 1A to protect local property taxes from state takeaways. Provisions do allow the state to suspend the funds, though the state must repay whatever amount is suspended within three years.
“We’re cautiously optimistic they’re going to honor the voter’s direction in Proposition 1A,” Lashbrook said.
Since the state has raided local revenue surpluses in years past, local agencies are hoping Proposition 1A will protect their funding.
“All we can really talk about is what’s happened in the past,” said General Manager Rick Lierman of the Squaw Valley Public Service District. “And that is that the state has come in and taken a portion of our property tax allocation. … Our property taxes are what we use to operate the district.”
Lierman said he is also keeping tabs on Proposition 1A. In the meantime, the Squaw Valley Public Service District will work with the California Special District’s association to safeguard local funds, Lierman said.
The North Tahoe Fire Protection District also plans to lobby for dollars at the Capitol in the coming months.
Schwarzenegger is proposing a 1.25 percent statewide property tax surcharge to finance an increase in firefighting suppression. The money would be used to purchase additional fire engines, aircraft and bolster firefighting crews.
“I’m not sure that that will have any significant impact on North Tahoe Fire,” said Doug Houston, the fire district’s legislative advocate, on Wednesday. “We don’t know how that personnel will be allocated or new fire engines will be placed.”
Calfire spokesperson Daniel Berlant said while the governor’s budget proposes closing 20 Calfire stations across the state, none are in the Tahoe-Truckee area. If anything, the governor’s Blue Ribbon fire commission is looking to increase Calfire’s presence in the Tahoe Basin, Berlant said.
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