Voters reject state funding measures | May 22, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - May 22, 2009

Voters reject state funding measures

Danville, school district to suffer 'devastating' funding gaps

by Geoff Gillette

The state of California's ongoing budget mess got no help Tuesday from voters, who turned down several ballot measures legislators claimed would provide the fiscal tools needed to balance the budget. Local officials say the state level defeat portends calamity at the local level as well.

From the minute returns started coming in both statewide and in Contra Costa County, five of the six ballot items, Measures 1A-1E were behind by 20 points. As the evening wore on, the Yes votes did not narrow the gap. The only measure voters seemed to favor was 1F, which instructs the state to deny raises to legislators when the government is operating in a deficit.

Final state vote tallies showed:

Measure 1A: Yes: 34.1% No: 65.9%

Measure 1B: Yes: 37.4% No: 62.6%

Measure 1C: Yes: 35.4% No: 64.6%

Measure 1D: Yes: 34.2% No: 65.8%

Measure 1E: Yes: 33.6% No: 66.4%

Measure 1F: Yes: 73.9% No: 26.1%

Voter turnout was low statewide with Contra Costa County showing only 28.3 percent turnout.

Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich said the election Tuesday night is something lawmakers in Sacramento should sit up and notice. "This is sending a clear message to Sacramento," he said. "That message is, 'get your house in order.'"

The loss of the additional revenues that would have been provided by the failed measures is expected to be felt all throughout the state, as the money is going to have to come from somewhere.

"Local governments are stuck. The state is going to reach out and steal what they can. They're going to get almost a million dollars out of our general fund alone. That's on top of us cutting $8 million out of our budget," Arnerich stated.

Danville's Town Council has been working on its budget for the past several weeks and has already enacted a number of policies to deal with the expected shortfall.

"I think we have done everything that you would see in a private business, no different than any of us who own businesses. We've gone to employees, we've made cuts to salaries, eliminated bonuses. Done everything to weather this downturn in our economy. And now we need to do more," said Arnerich.

Town Council members will meet next Tuesday in a study session to examine where they can trim now without affecting basic services. Town Manager Joe Calabrigo said the situation facing local governments is just unacceptable.

"We had to look at ways to offset about $2.5 million less in revenue than we thought we'd have next year. They (Town Council) found ways of doing that that nibble around the edges of service level reductions, and then the state comes along and says 'give me another million,'" he said.

If the situation for the town sounds grim, officials with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District are painting a picture of a district less than two years from drowning in a sea of red ink.

"If there's any silver lining to this," said School Superintendent Steve Enoch, "it's that Measure C passed. If it didn't pass we would be in extremely dire straits. As it is, our dire straits are now a year or two out."

In the revised budget put out by Gov. Schwarzenegger last week, the SRVUSD will be taking a $12 million funding hit. Enoch said that $6 million will come off the current year's budget and another $6 million off next year's budget.

"Basically, what this hit to our budget does is offset the federal stimulus money," said Enoch. He added, "Fortunately we have some reserves."

Members of the school board met in special session at 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss budget scenarios. Enoch said the board would be looking at how to get through the remaining month of this school year.

"My recommendation is that we are in a position to honor our Measure C supporters and maintain our programs next year. Beyond that, it's questionable. I think we're going to be looking at significant program cuts," he explained.

Enoch said they have already begun talks with bargaining units for the districts employees and they are looking at the possibility of rolling back salaries as a means of trimming the massive deficit.

"Right now," he said, "we're just trying to hold this ship together until the economy turns."

State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D., 15th) said until that happens, the funding gap is going to leave state and local programs in shambles.

"Our state had trouble balancing the budget before the recession hit and the recession just knocked us over the cliff. I don't know any programs that are going to be spared. It's going to be devastating for our schools and for those neediest among us," she said Tuesday night.

Buchanan said the decisive loss of the funding measures, coupled with the overwhelming passage of the measure dictating when elected officials could receive raises sends a message to lawmakers.

"The voters throughout the state have made it clear that they think it's our job as legislators to solve the budget crisis, not theirs," she said. "I think what we need to do in Sacramento is figure out what works and get rid of what doesn't."