BY K.P. SANDER
Riverside County – On Sun., Sept. 28, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill that would have restored funding that was diverted from California’s four newest Riverside County cities: Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Menifee and Wildomar.
The fate of the legislative bill expected to restore Vehicle License Fees (VLF) to these cities has had a disappointing outcome. Senate Bill 69 – sponsored by Senator Richard Roth (D-Riverside) – proposed to move an estimated $18 to $19 million in property tax money normally marked for education to the four cities. SB69 stemmed in part from a 2011 decision by California lawmakers to transfer millions in VLF funds from cities as part of the AB109 prison realignment process that shifted these costs from the state to counties. This was done to help counties absorb these new costs. The removal of these resources greatly impacted newer municipalities that relied heavily upon VLF funds. Because state law requires full funding for education, that money would have to have been repaid from the general fund.
Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Wildomar, and Menifee, all of which have incorporated since 2008, have worked with a lobbyist for the past two years trying to get the funds restored, but to no avail. In a providential act, Eastvale dropped out of the lobbying earlier this year, with Mayor Ike Bootsma stating that there were better ways to spend that money.
county and the four cities that
have worked very, very hard to
-Supervisor John Tavaglione
Many, including Riverside County Supervisor, Second District, John Tavaglione, had hoped to see the bill succeed. Tavaglione has worked tirelessly for the county and on this project in particular. At their regular board meeting on Tues., Sept. 30, he had some strong words in response to the veto.
John Benoit, Riverside’s Fourth District Supervisor, began the discussion on the veto saying that this was the third time the Governor has vetoed similar legislation. The four cities were told they would get an extra slice of the VLF to help them incorporate, and then the state changed the rules after the fact. The last time the Legislature voted to override a veto was in 1979, during Brown’s first term as governor. Benoit asked if there were legal avenues to explore.
“The courts may take a different view,” Benoit said regarding Brown’s veto.
When Tavaglione took his turn at the board meeting to comment on the Governor’s veto, his quiet eloquence did not mask his anger over the situation. He stated he would not delay pursuing legal action, and recommended that they send a letter to Senator Roth – whom he called a “true professional” – strongly suggesting a lawsuit.
“Senator Roth has worked diligently on this and many other actions, and was literally slapped in the face on this bill. I fully concur on the lawsuit,” said Tavaglione.
In 2010-11, the state was rapidly shifting responsibilities to the counties (including AB109, and Health and Human Services). With that shift, it became increasingly difficult for counties to provide municipal services to unincorporated areas. Incorporation was encouraged, with the VLF added in to help financially. When a city is counting on that funding as a significant portion of their operating budget, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to retain independence.
Tavaglione ended his board meeting comments on the veto by saying, “Those of us who were around during the Edmund G. [Pat] Brown, Sr. administration, remember that he was a true governor. He used true infrastructure for building roads and bridges. Jerry Brown is not his father’s son, I will tell you that. He has not represented us well, and I’m embarrassed to say he is our governor. This is a slap in the face to this county and the four cities that have worked very, very hard to become incorporated. This was a miserable, cold-hearted action.”
In Sunday’s message regarding the veto, Governor Brown stated, “I do not believe that it would be prudent to authorize legislation that would result in long term costs to the [state’s] general fund.” Tavaglione says the governor is using his billion dollar High Speed Rail as a priority.
Steven Aguilar, a candidate for Eastvale City Council, in a recent Facebook post said, “For Jerry Brown to meet with Riverside County officials in January and say he doesn’t understand what the big deal is with these four new cities is absurd. Jurupa Valley is in dire need of a financial boost from the State. Eastvale, Menifee, and Wildomar would have been in a better position than the cities are today. Jerry Brown needs to realize that having a city disincorporate under his term is NOT the best way to be remembered. Every constituent from all four cities needs to elect the best representation that will determine the sustainability of each city.”
While Eastvale may persevere, other cities may not be so fortunate.
Michele Nissen, Public Information Officer for Eastvale, says City officials have been prudent in their budgeting without relying on the VLF funds.
“We have been very conservative in our budget decisions (past, present and future) and have not counted on getting the VLF money back. The major impact to the City is that the loss of VLF money takes away our ability to provide more police officers and other services,” said Nissen.
The loss of VLF funds was hardest on Jurupa Valley, which was the last of the four cities to incorporate, just two days after the shifting of VLF funds by the state in 2011. The new city lost nearly half of its general fund budget during its first year. It has since cut expenses and delayed some payments to Riverside County. But without restoration of the VLF funds, the city expects to run out of money by July 2015; perhaps a few months longer. As a precaution, city officials reluctantly began the lengthy disincorporation process this past January.
If Riverside County pursues the lawsuit, we have definitely not heard the last of this very controversial issue.
Glenn Freeman contributed to this article.