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L.A. County Supervisor On Budget Deal

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

As we just heard, Los Angeles County voted to sue the state if it goes through with its plan to borrow local tax dollars. One of the people who voted today to do that is Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Welcome to the program.

Mr. ZEV YAROSLAVSKY (County Supervisor, Los Angeles): Thank you, good to be with you.

BRAND: Well, how much money is this deal going to cost you - is going to cost Los Angeles County?

Mr. YAROSLAVSKY: It's going to cost Los Angeles County several hundred million dollars. It's going to cost counties and cities throughout California over $4 billion. And it doesn't solve the state's problem. That's the tragedy of all this. They're balancing their budgets on the backs of local governments, but they are not solving the generic problem that they have in Sacramento, which is that they're spending beyond their means. They're spending more than they're taking in.

They don't solve that problem by dipping into local government's reserves. This isn't their money, this is local government money generated by local taxpayers for local programs. They're basically putting their sticky fingers in our pocketbooks and using it to balance their budget. They can't keep doing that. They won't be able to do that next year for an encore. What do they do when they're still $4 or $5 billion out of whack?

BRAND: What will that translate into, all that money that they'll take from your budget? What does that mean in terms of you not being able to provide certain services?

Mr. YAROSLAVSKY: Well, our services in counties in California are largely human services: health, mental health, child welfare, welfare itself. We serve the most vulnerable people in our society. So when you take a half a billion dollars out of our hide, it means that our ability to serve the most vulnerable among us has been diminished.

It is an insidious situation. The state raiding local money - in the case of counties - local money that is used to help the most vulnerable to cover for their profligate spending. It's absolutely pathetic and unbelievable.

BRAND: Now, they do say they will pay some of it back later.

Mr. YAROSLAVSKY: Well, we don't know that yet. That's been reported in the news, but so far none of the reports that I've had from people in Sacramento, with whom I've spoken, are talking about a borrowing, they're talking about a taking.

We'd prefer, if we have to pick our poison, that they borrow under the state constitutional provision that allows them to borrow once every 10 years from local government, that they do that. Because then we would be assured of being paid back. And we could borrow against that guarantee.

But they have, for the time being, chosen just to take the money and take other monies: redevelopment monies, other monies that they're entitled - that we're entitled to - transportation funds, gas tax money - and that doesn't require them to pay that back. So right now it's a taking, it's not a borrowing.

BRAND: Now, obviously, everyone is in a very, very difficult position. Lawmakers haggled for weeks over this budget. The assembly speaker is a Democrat, Karen Bass. She's from Los Angeles. And presumably, she didn't have a lot of other options. Did you speak with her and other fellow Democrats?

Mr. YAROSLAVSKY: I spoke with her and I spoke with other leaders of the legislature, other Democrats and Republicans. Look, they're in a tough spot, and I'm certainly not going to take a shot at them individually. The problem is a collective problem. It didn't start with this legislature or this governor. It's been going on for more than a decade.

No one believes that you can solve a $26 billion deficit, which the state has, on cuts alone. And even the state didn't do it on cuts alone. What they did was take it out of other people's monies. They said they didn't pass any new taxes. Well, they just taxed local government $4 billion. That's - every county and city in California considers that it's just been taxed and it's been whacked.

I would've expected a little more statesmanship from all of the people up there, including the governor. The governor has been saying for months that let's really fix the problem once and for all in California. Let's not kick the can down the road. Let's not use gimmicks. Let's not use borrowing. Let's do it right.

And what did they end up announcing last night? Gimmicks, kicking the can down the road, deferring the major solutions to the major problems the state has for the next governor and for the next legislature. It's - shame on them.

BRAND: Now, the legislature is set to vote on it, maybe on Thursday. What if they don't vote on it?

Mr. YAROSLAVSKY: I hope that they - that there's some legislators who have the courage to buck their leadership on this. I don't think most of the legislators know what's in the package. They certainly didn't know what it was last night. They don't know that one of the provisions, that it was inserted into this deal is an amendment to redevelopment law in California, which will facilitate the City of Industry underwriting the development of infrastructure for a new professional football stadium.

To me, it's just galling that we would find the mechanism to facilitate a football stadium, but we can't find the mechanism to provide for hungry children.

BRAND: Zev Yaroslavsky is a Los Angeles County supervisor. The Board of Supervisors has voted to sue the state if it goes ahead with a plan to seize local money to balance the budget. Thank you very much.

Mr. YAROSLAVSKY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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