Opinion Columns & Blogs

SLO County, the check’s in the mail

Memo from the state of California to the county of San Luis Obispo: Don’t say we never gave you anything. The state has cut a check for $30.94 to cover the costs its share of the Williamson Act.

True, in days of yore the state gave the county $1 million a year to take care of its slice of the act, which protects both farming and tourism by giving tax breaks to large landowners in exchange for a pledge to not develop their land.

But that was before the recession hit a couple of years back. Since then, the county has kept the Williamson Act intact locally by financing it out of its General Fund, including in its local contribution that would be the state’s share if the state were not a deadbeat.

San Luis Obispo is not the only county to receive the state’s Williamson Act largesse, according to David Liebler, writing in the County Voice, a publication of the California State Association of Counties.

Twenty-two counties and three cities are receiving checks for under $10, six of these are getting a check for less than $1 and, “shockingly, four are receiving checks for under 10 cents!” Liebler wrote.

“Orange County and the city of Camarillo are both getting checks for one penny. I kid you not: one.”

“What did the state spend to cut those checks?” Liebler, clearly agitated, wrote. “What did it cost in staff time, printing and postage? Did the state spend more than $1,000 to send out the $1,000 in checks to the 47 public agencies? Our guess is that they did. Is this good, efficient government?”

The chief guardian of our local dinero, Auditor-Controller Gere Sibbach, concurred with Liebler. “It likely cost (the state) more than $1,000 to prepare and mail the checks,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Sibbach said: “The Legislature didn’t want to end the program, they just would prefer the locals pay for it. So by ‘funding’ it with $1,000, they punted.”

County Administrator Jim Grant added, “CSAC is working very hard to convince the state to fund the entire $38 million or at least a major portion of it (in) the state budget. That remains to be seen, but negotiations continue.“

This is just one more example of how money seems to flow more swiftly and fully from outlying areas to the Center of Empire in Sacramento than it does in the other direction.

Another example that has raised its snarling head lately is the special election Tuesday, in which county voters will choose a successor to state Sen. Abel Maldonado.

The five counties that are impacted, which are short of money, balked at paying for this. They argued that the election should coincide with the November general election, thus saving the counties millions of dollars.

The problem with that argument, from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s perspective, was that he is a Republican, and elections held on days that are oh, say, two weeks after a statewide primary such as the one on June 8, draw low turnouts, and low turnouts favor Republicans.

Not to worry, said Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, one of the candidates: He will make sure the state reimburses the county.

Well, that’s a relief. I just hope he gets back more than $30.

Tribune columnist Bob Cuddy can be reached at 781-7909 or e-mail him at bcuddy@thetribunenews.com.