State sues Orange County to protect school money
The state filed a lawsuit against Orange County on Thursday to prevent political leaders from diverting money from education in order to balance the county’s budget.
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Orange County, said the diversion is unconstitutional and asks a judge to force county officials to put the money back into schools and community colleges.
The legal fight stems from changes last year in how the state dishes out money from vehicle license fees, which cost Orange County $48 million. Then, according to the state's lawsuit, county officials “announced it would take the extraordinary step of flouting the law and illegally redirecting property tax revenue” from schools and community colleges to help pay other bills.
The county planned to use $73.5 million to bridge a $49.5 million budget gap and cover $24 million in day-to-day expenses. Officials said K-12 schools wouldn't suffer because the state would be forced to fork over more money because of a constitutional requirement on school funding. Community colleges, however, would be more vulnerable.
County Supervisor Bill Campbell said he had not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit, but said that the county did nothing wrong.
“We believe we’ve honored the law,” he said. “And our whole desire is to make sure that Orange County taxpayers are treated as equally as other taxpayers across the state.”
The state began a legal probe last year, and was joined in its lawsuit by the chancellor of California's community colleges.
-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento and Nicole Santa Cruz in Orange County
Photo: Students work on a math lesson at Romero-Cruz Elementary School in Santa Ana in Orange County. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times