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Groups file measure to block state raids of local funds

October 20, 2009 |  4:37 pm

An alliance of local government groups proposed a ballot measure Tuesday in hopes of walling off their money from Sacramento.
In times of fiscal crisis, California leaders have long looked to municipal coffers for relief. The proposed measure, aimed at the November 2010 ballot, would prevent state officials from seizing local redevelopment money, gasoline taxes, highway funds and other revenue.
“The system is unsustainable, and we want to make sure that local services are not sacrificed because of the inability of state leaders to manage the state budget,” said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, one of the groups backing the proposed initiative.

This year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature commandeered $1.9 billion in local property tax funds to help balance the current budget. The money must be repaid within three years.

A voter-approved measure in 2004 limited such raids; the proposed new measure would prevent similar borrowing in the future, McKenzie said.

The state also siphoned away more than $2 billion in the last two budgets from local redevelopment agencies. The potential initiative would prevent diversion of such funds as well.

The measure, McKenzie said, is necessary to stop Sacramento leaders from "continuing to paper over their own …  deficit”  with earmarked local money.

Voters approved Proposition 42 in 2002 to prevent Sacramento from taking local transportation  money and Proposition 1A in 2004 to keep control of local property taxes. Such lock boxes, some argue, hamstrung the Legislature as it grappled with recent fiscal crises.

  --Shane Goldmacher, reporting from Sacramento