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Brown's budget would expand local government


Gov. Jerry Brown called Monday for a "vast and historic" transfer of state services and funding back to local governments as way to both help the state's fiscal woes and return decision-making to cities, counties, schools and special districts.

A total of about $5.9 billion in state programs, including adult and juvenile correctional duties, fire and emergency services and child welfare and senior-protection programs would be transferred to counties and other local jurisdictions under Brown's budget proposal released at the Capitol and online.

The draft package also calls for the elimination of hundreds of local redevelopment agencies, a move that would free up billions of dollars for local governments and schools.

The shifts, which are aimed at addressing the state's $25.4 billion deficit, would partly reverse the decades of centralization of government services and funding in Sacramento. Brown, who saw that trend rise during his first term as governor in the late 1970s, said it's a pattern he hopes to reverse.

"It's going to be objected to, but there will also be a lot of people that will say, &‘Thank God, we're facing the music,'" he said Monday at a press conference.

Increased local control is fine, Sonoma County government officials said Monday. The real question, they said, is whether those shifted programs are accompanied by sufficient funding, a problem that's plagued such proposals in the past.

To deliver the money, Brown's proposal relies on support from both the state Legislature and voters for a five-year extension of tax increases on sales, income and vehicles.

Voters in 2009 turned down a similar request by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Local officials said they feared an election in June could produce the same results.

"The question is going to come down to the funding of it," said Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo. "I just don't foresee the state's voters being comfortable with more taxes."

Under the proposal, low-level adult prisoners and parole violators would be transferred to the county jail system. The state's juvenile prison system would also be eliminated, putting all youth offenders under county supervision. Combined, the two moves are expected to save the state more than $560 million next fiscal year.

Sheriff Steve Freitas said he had not had enough time to evaluate the potential impacts on the county jail system.

But Chief Probation Officer Robert Ochs said mixing state juvenile offenders with county-held youths, most of whom are convicted of less serious crimes, could pose problems.

"From the county perspective, we need a place to send the toughest, most recalcitrant kids," he said about the role of the state juvenile prison system.

Sonoma County and City of Santa Rosa officials said the elimination of redevelopment agencies was a huge blow to local economic development and job-creation efforts. Brown briefly praised those efforts Monday, but said the billions in taxpayer dollars now used annually by the agencies are better off in the hands of schools and local governments.

Other county government officials said they weren't yet clear how the realignment would affect the departments they oversee.

Child welfare, foster care, adult protective services and substance abuse programs are all targets for a shift to counties. The state also could scale back fire and emergency medical coverage of rural areas, leaving those responsibilities to local departments.