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Arnold to Manteca: Im taking $1.4M
Gas tax raid comes on heels of $1.2M hit on property taxes
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It’s good news for front end alignment shops and bad news for just about everyone else except state workers whose jobs may be saved.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest proposal to plug a $24 billion state budget deficit just as California is ready to run out of money as early as Monday is to raid at least $750 million in local gas tax receipts which could cost Manteca up to $1.4 million this summer.

It would have devastating consequences on the municipal budget, street maintenance and ultimately public safety – despite the governor’s assurance it wouldn’t – if cities are forced to cut into general fund money supporting police and fire to keep an absolute minimum streets crew.

“I don’t think they have a plan to save the state,” Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford noted Thursday pointing out all they are doing is patching the problem by shifting money around – this time at the expense of local governments that provide day-to-day services to 38 million Californians.

 The hit couldn’t come at a worse time for Manteca.

The city still has another $2 million to $3 million to trim off the $11.3 million deficit projected for the fiscal year starting in 18 days if they continued spending and revenue patterns that were in place back in December. Schwarzenegger has already indicated he’ll take anywhere from between $900,000 and $1.2 million in property taxes from Manteca as a loan. Now the gas tax tax raid that could go as high as three out of every four dollars could start as early as this summer and last at least three years as the state tries to tread water in the sea of red ink they’ve created by simply  taking away from local services.

“We (the cities) aren’t the ones that created the problem,” Weatherford said of the bloated state bureaucracy.

He noted people in Sacramento “don’t get it” as they don’t have to worry about things such as fixing pot holes and providing police and fire protection.

“Almost none of them have any knowledge of what it takes to operate local government,” Weatherford said.

As for not creating the problem, the mayor pointed out Manteca’s street division that is funded largely by gas tax is at the same staffing level that it was at in 1981 – which is nine workers - despite having 193 miles of streets today or almost double the level 28 years ago.

There are 15 positions authorized in the budget but the city has been leaving them vacant as people retired due to the state continuing to “borrow” state gas money meant for local street upkeep.

It underscores a trend that has been in place since the early 1990s of the state eroding local revenue sources because Sacramento can’t live within a budget. Since 1991, the state has taken upwards of $18 million from the city’s general fund and redevelopment agency. It proved the mayor’s point that “the state has no plan” and that the current budget being hobbled together is simply a patch and doesn’t put in place any long term solutions.

The $1.9 million of the city’s local share of gas tax that the city receives annually goes to general maintenance –pothole repairs and such – to street rehab and repairs.

A good chunk of that expense is the manpower as such tasks are labor intensive.

Weatherford said the city will need to do what it can to save those positions – if possible – as it would have severe consequences in both the short long term on road safety and quality.

Assistant City manager Karen McLaughlin noted safe roads is also a public safety issue referencing the governor’s remarks that raiding gas tax funds will have no impact on public safety.

Manteca is delaying adopting a budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year until August or September so they can have a better handle on property and sales tax revenue as well as raids by the state. The city is already bracing for a 15 percent reduction in property tax receipts due to plunging housing values. Adding salt to the wound is the formula that the state is using to determine its borrowing of property tax is based on last year’s assessments that are expected to be significantly higher in comparison.

The city didn’t fill the position left vacant when streets superintendent Dennis Reis retired last month. Instead they now have a lead worker reporting directly to Deputy Director of Public Works Jim Stone.

The nine member streets crew maintains 193 miles of streets from line stripping and pothole repair to flood issues plus curbs, gutters and sidewalks.

Currently, city crews respond to issues with potholes within 24 hours of them being reported.

Stone has  said as personnel gets cut back even more due to budget problems that service level will drop out of necessity. There simple will no longer be adequate manpower to react quickly. Those remarks were made before the possibility the state may take 75 percent of Manteca’s gas tax revenues away.