If politicians in Sacramento “are not going to see the light, we need to show 'em the fire.”
So threatened San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox during a June 3 “summit” where local elected officials griped about a possible state raid of city and county tax revenues and began to strategize a defense.
But the question is: Do any of these local officials have a lighter? San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders thinks they do, but some observers aren't so sure.
“We need to let our citizens know any way we can what's happening at the state level,” Sanders told CityBeat, “because I don't think most people know how the state impacts cities and counties. All they know about the state is the DMV and the Highway Patrol.”
Sanders noted at the emergency meeting that the state might borrow more than $2 billion from local governments' share of property taxes, allowed for under 2004's Prop. 1A, and snatch some $750 million in local gas taxes. He estimated the impact on San Diego alone could be $70 million.
Sanders told CityBeat that he doesn't believe there's much the county and its 18 cities can do from a legal standpoint.
“It's mostly political,” he said. “All we can do is let them know it's going to be an unpopular decision and a very painful decision if they do make that, because we're going to ask local taxpayers, whose money [goes] to police and fire, to call their legislators and the Governor's office.
“If I was a state legislator,” he added, “and I started getting a lot of pressure from people that were my constituents about libraries and park and rec and police and fire, I'd certainly be listening to them.”
Thad Kousser, an associate political science professor at UCSD, noted in an e-mail that “legislators will also be getting angry phone calls and e-mails from those who oppose cuts to schools, the dismantling of our welfare system, the abolition of Healthy Families, the early release of state prisoners, increases in community college and university fees; the list of heartrending budget reductions goes on and on. It will be difficult for supporters of local government to have their voices heard above the chorus of cuts.”
Brian Adams, an associate political science professor at San Diego State University, said in an e-mail that, come election time, perhaps officials with some local clout can throw their weight behind an opponent of a legislator who doesn't oppose a tax raid, but “I personally don't think that these tactics will work well.
“The worst-case scenario for state legislators and the governor is for the state to default,” Adams continued. “Most legislatures have decided that they will do whatever it takes to avoid default, regardless of the political and economic consequences.”
Democratic political consultant Chris Crotty put things more bluntly, saying in an e-mail that local officials have no political leverage at their disposal. “Absolutely none whatsoever,” Crotty said. “Maybe they can talk [Congressman Darrell] Issa into bankrolling another governor's recall, but that still wouldn't solve the problem.”
Sanders said there will be another meeting of local officials soon. On Tuesday, he went with other big-city mayors on a lobbying trip to Sacramento. “We're going to actually try to come up with some alternatives to take up there instead of just saying don't do it,” he said, “but I have to tell you, the state's going to have to make some difficult decisions.”