The state’s budget negotiations have pitted Democrats trying to forestall cuts against Republicans seeking to hold the line on taxes—especially now that brand new GOP Senate leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, has pledged to take tax raises off the table.
But data from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) suggests that cuts under the budget plan approved Thursday morning could likely hit many Republican areas hardest—while the tax burden is already falling more heavily on Democratic leaning counties.
According to the data distributed by Assembly Budget Committee chairwoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, the majority of the counties using the most in state services are generally represented by Republicans. When this data on 2007-2008 state spending is compared to registration data from the Secretary of State’s office, it shows that seven out of the top 10 counties receiving state expenditures, measured per capita, have Republican registration majorities. Of the top 10 counties that contributed the most per capita tax dollars in 2006, eight have Democratic registration majorities.
“I hate to put this in partisan terms, but it’s the wealthier counties who are paying that are represented by Democrats,” Evans said. “Everybody needs to take a step back and look at what the data actually says.”
Evans said that she requested the LAO put the data together after she held a Budget Committee hearing on the Republican’s budget proposal in December.
“At the end of that hearing, it occurred to me we didn’t really know where the burden on the budget cuts would fall,” Evans said. “I asked the LAO to come back and show me who pays the taxes and who uses the services. While I anticipated something like this, I really didn’t expect such stark differentials.”
Evan’s office admits the data is incomplete. The tax data shows sales and income tax, made up about 83 percent of the tax burden in 2006. It doesn’t include corporate income taxes, though these are also heavily concentrated in urban, Democratic-leaning areas. The spending data compiles a variety of state general fund spending, including most K-12 education, Specialized Secondary Programs (SSP), In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), Medi-Cal (but not mental health and special services), and prison and parole expenditures, based on county-of-origin of the prisoner. Overall , the money accounts for half of the $100 billion in General Fund spending.
It does not include some major spending programs, such as post-secondary education, due to the difficulty in tracking students by county of origin. In general, students in urban and suburban areas are more likely to attend college than rural ones, which might skew spending more towards Democratic-leaning areas.
But Evans said the main goal was to show where the proposed cuts would hurt most. Topping the list is Modoc County, which sends a tax contribution of only $314 a person, while absorbing $2,174 in services. It is also the highest per capita user of state K-12 money.
The area is represented by Senator Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, who was a key target for a third Republican budget vote in negotiations over the weekend. Cox’s staff, however, noted that he also represents Placer County, which is the No. 8 contributing county, and sends back $549 more dollars to the state than it receives.
Some of the other counties using services are represented by Republicans who have taken a very hard line calling for cuts over tax increases. Kings County, represented by Assemblyman Danny Gilmore, R-Hanford, sends back the second least in tax money of any county in the state, at $290 per person in 2006. In 2007-2008, it’s annual cost for prisons and parole for inmates sent out of the county alone cost the state $478 for every citizen of King’s County.
Overall, eight of nine Bay Area counties—all with Democratic majorities—were in the top 20 contributing counties. Thirteen of the top 20 contributing counties have Democratic registration advantages, while 13 of the top 20 receiving counties have Republican majorities. Two counties in each list have tied registration. Overall, 29 of California’s 58 counties have Republican majorities and 27 have Democratic majorities.
However, this analysis rubs Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, the wrong way.
“Is she somehow suggesting that we Republicans should be supporting taxes because were getting more from the system then her own constituents?” he said. “In the district I represent, there are so few people depending on state aid that calls I get are just like ‘Shut it down!’”
Indeed, Orange County sent back $549 extra dollars to the state for every resident, according to the LAO figures. This doesn’t even reflect the true number for the “one-seventh” of Orange County that he represents, DeVore said. For one thing, he said, the “low-performing schools” in the district Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, were getting more state money than the higher-performing schools in his own district.
He also said that under Proposition 13, the tax-limiting initiative passed by voters in 1978, low property-tax counties like Orange are subsidizing higher-tax counties like San Francisco. In the current budget proposals, Correa actually negotiated for an additional $70 million in property tax revenue to be sent back to Orange County in order to offset some of this difference.
DeVore also criticized the usefulness of looking at the state county by county, noting that five counties—Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino and Santa Clara—contain half the state’s population. Many small rural counties take a lot per capita, he said, but it doesn’t amount to much actual spending by comparison.
“I can play those games as well as anyone else can,” DeVore said. “I love math. Give me a spreadsheet and half an hour and I’ll come up with all sorts of stuff.”
Assembly Budget Committee vice chair Roger Niello, said that Evans was engaged in “selective use of information.”
“On one level, so much for the accusation that Republicans are just looking out for rich people,” Niello said. “But the fact of the matter is that our concern about government spending and out concern about taxation is a principled issued.”
That principle, he said, is that taxation takes dollars out of the economy that would better be used by the private sector. This is the fundamental disagreement between the parties, he said, that transcends any analysis of where particular dollars may come from or go to.
“Figures never lie, but liars sure can figure,” Niello said. “I think it was Mark Twain who said ‘First get your facts straight, and then distort them all you please.’”