Governor's budget cuts will hit Lassen County
Ketelsen said the release of 22,000 inmates with 20 months or less left to serve in prison is the big ace in Schwarzenegger’s proposal and may have direct impact on Lassen County.
District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman said a recent publication suggested the governor plans to target inmates in nine or 10 of the 30 fire camps, 18 of which are run by the California Correctional Center in Susanville.
District 3 Supervisor Lloyd Keefer agreed, saying the strategy is to “pick the ones that they know are going to be more sensitive to the public response and raise a big fuss.”
Not only would releasing camp inmates reduce fire protection in Lassen County, Chapman said, it would also lower the amount of reimbursement the city of Susanville receives for the impact of the prison on the city budget.
“Even if they took 2,000 of the 22,000 being released, that’s going to have a direct financial impact on the local area,” Chapman said
“Not only that,” Ketelsen said, “but the data shows that there’s a 70 percent recidivism rate. So, if you put these people back on the street and there’s 70 percent going back anyway, you have all the additional costs to the local agencies of arrest, prosecution and sending them back.”
Judges may be faced with sentencing convicted felons to less than 20 months in prison only to have them released back onto the street.
“It’s designed to hit a very sensitive nerve so that the legislature is incentivized to do something about raising revenue somewhere else instead of coming up with the same old solution,” Ketelsen said.
Schwarzenegger’s prison-release proposal is odd, Ketelsen said, because the governor is, at the same time, paying the justice department to fight a proposal to release the exact same number of inmates from the state prison system in response to lawsuits pending in appeals courts.
“Interesting on the one hand he’s fighting the judges from ordering that and at the same time he’s indicating that that’s how he’s going to help balance the budget,” Ketelsen told the Board of Supervisors at its Jan. 22 meeting.
He added no one knows what will be included in the final budget when the legislature approves it in the summer.
“It’s not always very clear exactly how it translates to Lassen County,” Ketelsen said.
“Everything you translate now, I guarantee you come May or June it will probably be the flip side,” said Chapman.
It’s clear the governor will cut 10 percent of funding for Williamson Act preservation of agricultural land, Ketelsen said.
The California Land Conservation Act of 1965 — commonly referred to as the Williamson Act — allows the county to contract with private landowners to restrict specific parcels of land to agricultural or related open-space use.
In return, landowners pay lower property taxes because the land is used for farming and open space and doesn’t attain full market value.
“At least from the department of finance’s point of view, it’s a permanent cut and will, in fact, happen,” Ketelsen said.
If the state cuts 10 percent from Williamson Act contracts each year, Ketelsen said, the board may have to send cancellation notices to those with 10-year contracts.
“Because by the year 10, you’re going to have 100 percent of your subvention gone,” he said, later adding the notices won’t save the county any money for 10 years.
Some counties already put specific language in each Williamson Act contracts saying they will automatically non-renew if the state cuts the subvention funds supporting the tax break.
He said the board may want to put a similar notice in new contracts and discuss sending cancellation notices.
“I’ve heard this dialogue on the Williamson Act at least five times and this time it sounded more serious,” Ketelsen said. “It’s not a lot of money and that’s always the argument. ‘Why are you doing this? It has such a dramatic effect on each of the counties and it doesn’t really do you any good.’”
“Did you tell them that 10 percent of nothing is still nothing?” Chapman asked.
Ketelsen added he will bring the board a list of other items in the governor’s budget that will affect Lassen County as soon as county staff analyzes each item.
“The dialog is unfolding and the story isn’t yet completely told. So, we will bring it back to you in a month with a lot more detail.”
Though Proposition 1A in 2004 prevented the state from raiding local revenue, Ketelsen said the governor’s budget cuts are an attempt to force Republicans to raise revenue somewhere else.
From the early 1990s until 2004, the legislature and various governors shifted more than $40 million in property taxes from cities, counties and special districts to help the state meet its budget needs.
The tax raid left local communities struggling to fund services such as law enforcement, fire protection, emergency medical response, healthcare, parks and libraries.
The state also imposed billions in additional costs on local governments by mandating programs and services only partially funded or not funded at all by the state.
Proposition 1A requires the state to reimburse local governments for the cost of mandated programs and services. If the state fails to provide reimbursement to local governments for state-mandated local programs, the mandate must be suspended, except for specified employee rights and benefits.
The state may borrow local government funds if the governor declares a fiscal necessity and two-thirds of the legislature approves. All borrowed funds must be repaid within three years.
Ketelsen called the pressure on Republican legislators to raise revenue by some other means an interesting political science study.
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