State

City, county leaders decry state budget

City and county leaders Wednesday painted a grim picture of fewer police officers, deteriorating streets, and businesses gasping for air if California legislators go through with a budget proposal relying on money snatched from local agencies.

"Robbing Peter to pay Paul is no longer a viable solution," said Turlock Mayor John Lazar at a 30-minute news conference at Tenth Street Plaza filled with angry speakers representing Stanislaus County and several of its cities.

Impacts won't be pinpointed until final budget language is revealed. But it's clear that the state intends to close its $26 billion gap with billions of dollars taken or borrowed from cities' and counties' gas and property taxes and redevelopment funds.

The League of California Cities, which coordinated Wednesday's media event, equates the state budget to "a reckless Ponzi scheme" where investors are paid with money collected from new investors "until the whole scheme collapses."

Several speakers criticized the state for dodging hard decisions and failing to live within its means. Riverbank City Councilman Danny Fielder said he teaches his children not to spend more than they make and wondered why the state's top leaders can't do the same.

"We have nowhere to go to rob funds," groused Chris Vierra, vice mayor of Ceres.

Modesto Vice Mayor Kristin Olsen said, "It is illogical to believe that the state will be in any position to repay borrowed property tax to cities and counties in a few years."

About $7.7 million of money Modesto desperately needs could be sucked to Sacramento, Olsen said. Modesto already has cut $4.8 million for its budget year that started July 1. Stanislaus County's exposure could reach $30 million.

"We should rise up and sweep everybody out of office who supports this budget," threatened Jim DeMartini, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

Modesto Police Capt. Gene Ballentine noted the city recently laid off eight officers and might have to say goodbye to more.

"(Laid-off employees) are real people with faces and names, your friends and neighbors," Modesto Councilwoman Janice Keating said.

Modesto Fire Chief Jim Miguel said he regularly sends crews to help battle huge fires elsewhere in California. That would be hard to do when he's having trouble staffing fire stations here, Miguel said.

Many speakers urged people to complain to their state Assembly and Senate representatives.

Some noted a recent court decision declaring unconstitutional the state's raid on redevelopment money, a ruling the state's proposal seems to ignore. Cities are readying lawsuits if the budget passes.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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