If you’re looking for a bill fight that neatly sums up the differences between Republicans and Democrats on the budget, you can’t do better than a pair of measures to fund law enforcement.
Both AB 192 from Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Chico, and AB 66 from Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Eureka, would give $500 million a year to law enforcement agencies. Each seeks to replace the half-billion dollars cops would lose if and when the current vehicle license fee (VLF) expires on June 30.
That’s where the similarities end.
Chesbro’s bill would keep the money by maintaining the status quo. Essentially, all the two-page, 700-odd word bill does is maintain the VLF by taking away the sunset clause on the tax. This amounts to 1 percent of the value of the vehicle annually, with depreciation built in, though AB 66 repeals a 0.15 percent additional fee that has been in operation for the last two years. Similar language also appears in budget trailer bills from Chesbro, ABX1 9, and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, whose SCA1x 1 would put the question on an initiative ballot.
Logue’s bill, which weighs in at less than 400 words in current form, is even simpler. It would appropriate $500 million annually for five years from the general fund to pay the law enforcement agencies that would lose funding if the VLF went away. AB 192 neither repeals nor extends the VLF. A third bill, AB 168 by Assemblyman Jeff Gorrell, would appropriate $506 million from the General Fund for the 2011-12 fiscal year only, also without directly affecting the VLF.
But make no mistake, there’s a reason Logue wants to take that money from the General Fund, and it may appear to have little to do with law enforcement. Logue said he wants to help deplete the pot of money set aside for social programs.
“Welfare costs are astronomical compared to the rest of the nation,” Logue said. “It is a lot easier to get welfare in California.” He added that he wants “to bring the resources out of the General Fund.”
Logue cited figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2008 which showed that California had 12 percent of the nation’s population but 30 percent of its welfare cases. These numbers appeared in a widely-quoted USA Today story that year, and later found their way into the comments of many Republicans, including Meg Whitman when she was running for governor last year. The Whitman campaign also touted figures showing that fewer than one in four recipients met federal work minimums and that California was one of only nine states that don’t enforce the federal five-year limit on receiving payments.
When he introduced his bill in December, Chesbro played up the support it would offer to law enforcement. This includes maintaining $500,000 in annual funding to the Rural Sheriffs Program.
“This funding is vitally important to local law enforcement programs, especially in rural California,” said Chesbro in a statement at the time. “It represents the majority of state funding to local public safety. Sheriffs in the First Assembly District tell me that losing this funding will devastate law enforcement services in their counties.”
But his bill, which has only Democratic co-authors, would also keep other beneficiaries of the VLF by maintaining the status quo. Only a portion of the VLF money goes to law enforcement, with most of the rest going to local governments and some also paying into the state’s General Fund.
Perhaps for this reason, the League of California Cities supports AB 66 andhas a “watch” listing on AB 192 and AB 168. In a support letter that has been circulating to legislators, the League warned, “Without the state taking action, we will have no choice but to start the process of laying off personnel and reconfiguring programs in order to absorb the cuts, which has a direct impact on our residents.”
Chesbro’s bill is a continuous appropriation for the future, said League associate legislative representative Dorothy Holzem, providing more “security” for cities.
With the budget taking all of the air out of the room, legislatively speaking, none of these bills has yet moved very far. AB 66, AB 168 and AB 192 would all require a two-thirds vote to pass.