SLO County weighs in on state budget fight

Voters should have their say on extending the state’s vehicle license fee and sales tax, San Luis Obispo County supervisors said Tuesday, while expressing their annoyance that the Legislature has not put the matter to the public vote sought by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The supervisors also said that if the tax extensions don’t go forward and the state shifts its responsibilities and programs to the counties without giving them the money to carry out those duties, the results will be “gut-wrenching,” to use Supervisor Bruce Gibson’s phrase.

Gibson said he found it “appalling” that “we don’t offer, in a democratic society,” a chance for the public to vote.

“We need to allow our public to weigh in,” Supervisor Frank Mecham added. Adam Hill and Jim Patterson concurred.

For months, Brown has been asking the Legislature to put these measures on the ballot. But in California’s current system of governance, a simple majority vote of the Legislature will not suffice to put a tax increase on a statewide ballot, nor will 55 percent or 60 percent, which is the threshold in some circumstances for some ballot measures.

In California, the Legislature needs a two-thirds vote of its members, and Brown has been unable to win over the handful of Republican votes needed in the Assembly and state Senate.

Republicans have been seeking to trade their votes for concessions on pensions and other issues, a process that has been sluggish and that Gibson said does not belong in a discussion about whether the public has a right to vote.

“I don’t see why a quid pro quo is necessary,” he said.

Republicans blame Democrats for the failure of Brown’s proposals to get on the ballot. Democrats have not made enough concessions to earn their votes, they say, and are in thrall to public employees unions.

The haggling has gone on so long that the deadline for a vote in June has passed. But should the sides agree, Brown’s proposals could go to a public vote later in the year. Alternatively, Brown could find another way to get these measures on the ballot.

One of those who have been instrumental in the budget/ballot discussions is Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo. Blakeslee will be in San Luis Obispo on Friday to speak about budget issues at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Blakeslee has been among a handful of Republicans seeking to gain concessions from the governor in exchange for their agreement to let the public vote on Brown’s proposals.

He is set to be greeted outside the luncheon with protests from people who advocate for the poor, disabled and others who face hardship from cutbacks.

The discussion about the public’s right to vote took place Tuesday as the county’s lobbyists in Sacramento, Shaw/Yoder/Antwih and Peterson Consulting, spoke about the county’s legislative program.Among the positions the county is staking out:

Supporting SB 106, Blakeslee’s bill that would reimburse counties for the cost of special elections held last year.

Supporting AB 1125, a bill by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, that would allow a sanitation district — specifically, the Los Osos sewer project — to develop a tiered rate system to help low-income residents.

Opposing “unfunded mandates,” which are programs the state assigns to local governments without the money to conduct them.

Supporting giving local governments “maximum flexibility” to run state-mandated programs in a way that provides “protection from state mandates that attempt to micromanage local affairs.”

Supporting legislative attempts to lower the threshold requirement for local voter-approved gasoline and sales taxes to 55 percent from two-thirds.

To read the entire report and recommendations, go to www.slocounty.ca.gov/bos/BOSagenda.htm. Look up the April 5 agenda and scroll to Item D-1.