Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 15, 2003

Promises, promises

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger kept one promise he made on the campaign trail – to roll back vehicle license fees to economic boom levels – but it looks like he’s quickly backing away from two other promises he made during his gubernatorial campaign. Failure to adhere to either pledge will have hefty impact on local governmental agencies and will heavily impact your quality of life.

The first promise Schwarzenegger has failed to keep is his promise to local governments, who according to the state’s constitution are the rightful recipients of vehicle license fees, to reimburse their lost revenues due to the lower VLF rates. Why? Because restoring VLF revenues to local governments makes Schwarzenegger’s budget deficit several billion dollars larger.

When VLF fees were reduced during boom times, state officials promised worried city and county officials that they’d “backfill” VLF revenue, so that local governments wouldn’t see a drop in revenue. But that backfill has not happened since Schwarzenegger’s executive order rolling back the vehicle license fee – despite campaign promises that he’d take care of cities and counties.

Santa Clara County officials told reporter Peter Crowley that they’re anticipating a $60 to $70 million VLF revenue reduction this fiscal year, losses that might mean cuts to health, fire and emergency medical services and police protection.

Gilroy, which depends on the VLF for 9 percent of its general fund revenues (according to Coleman Advisory Services), stands to lose more than $1.3 million in fiscal year 2003-2004 without the promised VLF backfill. Morgan Hill, which counts on VLF revenue to make up 14 percent of its general fund, also stands to take a $1.3-million hit.

Here’s an important history lesson about the unpopular VLF increase that former Gov. Gray Davis approved effective Oct. 1: It simply reversed a gradual a cut in the fee that was triggered by a state surplus. Those who villified Davis for the increase conveniently forget that the VLF’s incremental reduction since 1998 from 2 percent of a car’s value to .65 percent was made possible by an economic boom that no longer exists.

Perhaps the state’s budget problem isn’t as intractable as the politicians in Sacramento would have us believe. Here’s an interesting statement from the California Taxpayer’s Association:

“The more than $70 billion in revenue expected to be received in 2003-2004 would more than cover the state general fund budget for the 1999-2000 fiscal year. This was hardly a medieval state 48 months ago when we funded schools, prisons, higher education and health care. Clearly costs and case loads have increased. However, the rise in spending growth from 1999-2000 through the current fiscal year is well above inflation.”

I’m no accountant – my never-balanced checkbook register is proof enough of that. But I do have an idea, a simple proposal. Let’s roll back the clock to 1999. Fund all programs at FY 99-00 levels. It’s clear the state has have enough money to do so. This takes the politics out of the game and it gives local governments their VLF revenues.

Then, with a no-politics budget in place, let’s put pressure the state to get its house in order without draining the budgets of cities, counties – and, getting to shaky Schwarzenegger promise number two – and schools to do it.

Cut unnecessary commissions and advisory boards (and that would be most of them) and their expensive perks and per diems. Empty prisons of non-violent offenders, and lay off the well-compensated prison guards that we’d no longer need. Consolidate a few state penitentiaries and save a few more bucks. Get serious about eliminating waste and fraud that’s rife in so many state programs. And I’m not talking just about individuals who fraudulently receive welfare, unemployment compensation or disability benefits. I’m talking also about the large-scale fraud perpertuated by some unscrupulous contractors for examinations never performed, for medical equipment never delivered.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Schwarzenegger is backing away from promises that education would be cut “over my dead body.” Rather, Schwarzenegger is now talking of suspending Prop. 98, which requires that 40 percent of the general fund be spent on K-12 and community college education.

Let’s make sure our new governor knows we expect him to have total recall of his campaign pledges.



  1. […] Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized his party in a column in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. I’m no Schwarzenegger fan, but he’s right to decry the rapidly shrinking GOP tent: “An inclusive party would welcome […]

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