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March 1, 2011 > 'The Worst is Yet to Come'

'The Worst is Yet to Come'

County leaders examine local impacts of proposed State budget cuts and planned "realignment" of services and warn of tough times ahead

Submitted By Guy Ashley, Alameda County

The week beginning February 14, 2011, Alameda County hosted two budget forums titled "The Worst is Yet to Come" which focused on the region's economic outlook and proposed federal and state budget cuts and their potential impacts on the community.

The forums, hosted by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Susan S. Muranishi, gave County leaders the chance to explain how pending budget cuts will further erode local services that have been pared back in recent years due to falling County revenues and increased demand for services. The sessions also raised the curtain on a discussion with local stakeholders about how the "realignment" of services proposed by Governor Brown - which would shift responsibility for many services from the State to local government - will affect safety net programs and the people who receive them. The forums were held at the Fremont Library and at the Elihu Harris State Building, Oakland, on February 15 and 16, respectively.

The forums allowed the Board of Supervisors and other top Alameda County officials to expand on information about the State's realignment plans they received at a February 10 meeting in Oakland with Diane Cummins of the California Department of Finance, who helped develop Governor Brown's realignment proposal. County leaders said they will continue to resist any realignment proposals that are not accompanied by stable, long-term funding to pay for programs the State would pass on to local government.

"Any realignment of responsibilities from the state to the counties must make sure to keep the counties financially whole," said Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan. "Local governments would also need flexibility to operate programs in ways that meet the specific needs in their communities."

Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who hosted the Fremont forum, said Governor Brown's budget proposal, and its reliance on a five-year extension of current taxes that will go before the voters in June, raises significant concerns that local governments and the communities they serve will ultimately bear the brunt of the State's budget woes.

"Even if voters support a five-year extension of taxes, little has been said about what happens in Year 6," Haggerty said. "By that time cities and counties may be responsible for programs now administered by the State. Where will the money come from to help pay for these added responsibilities?"

Supervisor Keith Carson, who chairs Alameda County's Budget Workgroup, said he is deeply concerned about a proposal to shift responsibility for some State prison inmates to County jails and local law enforcement agencies.

"While there is a great degree of uncertainty about what the final realignment proposal will look like we do know the first part will include shifting inmates and parolees to Alameda County which could have a devastating impact on public safety. In Alameda County, our jails are at or near capacity and we are banking some probation cases, which means we're unable to provide even routine supervision of some probationers who should be supervised," Carson said. "We should all be concerned, therefore, about what would happen when hundreds of inmates are added to the mix locally without adequate funding, infrastructure or support programs."

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