The Legislature really dropped the ball with its version of the gas-tax-swap deal, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer told Alameda County officials today, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was right to promise a veto.
Lockyer addressed the county Board of Supervisors Budget Workgroup, with attendees including supervisors Keith Carson, Alice Lai-Bitker and Gail Steele; County Administrator Susan Muranishi; and dozens of county department heads and staffers, local nonprofit officials and other stakeholders.
Schwarzenegger’s version of the gas-tax-swap deal would’ve saved a lot of money, but the changes and compromises it underwent while wending its way through the Legislature reduced the General Fund savings to a fraction of what they had been, he said.
“Why do all this complicated shifting around if the net result is confusion,” Lockyer later elucidated outside the budget session. “It didn’t make sense to change everything around and have lawsuits about it … for a very modest net result.”
Lockyer said he also agrees with the governor’s pitch for a sales-tax exemption for green tech manufacturing equipment.
Inside the budget session, Lockyer had delivered a somewhat sobering assessment of the state’s fiscal situation – and so, the outlook for cities and counties – in the months to come.
Cash flow is fine now, he said, but if the Legislature and Schwarzenegger can’t reach a budget deal early in the summer, the state’s payments of gas tax funds, mental-health tax funds and other monies to cities, counties and school districts “almost inevitably” could be deferred for up to two months, to the tune of billions of dollars.
And Sacramento is counting on “unrealistically high” estimates of federal aid to help balance its books, meaning lawmakers and the governor will have to scramble to backfill an even bigger hole when that money from Washington doesn’t materialize.
Lockyer said he intends to sell about $14 billion worth of general obligation bonds this year to pay for infrastructure projects, and as much as $10 million (depending on when we have a budget deal) in short-term borrowing this summer to tide us through our annual cash-flow issues.
He said California gets a bad rap from bond-rating agencies, not because there’s any real risk of default – he’s constitutionally empowered to service the state’s debts no matter what the Legislature does or doesn’t do – but rather because of the widespread perception of legislative gridlock Sacramento exudes year after year, a perception unlikely to be dispelled so long as the state constitution requires two-thirds votes of the Legislature for all budget and tax bills. But with no significant chance of changing that any time soon and no chance of reforming Proposition 13 to allow for reassessment of commercial property, California will keep having to find ways to muddle through, he said.