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State deficit won’t hurt Berkeley much

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Friday May 17, 2002

A revised state budget may have Berkeley residents paying more for a pack of cigarettes and reaching deeper into their pockets to register an automobile, but residents aren’t likely to lose out on many city services, Berkeley officials say. 

“We’re still sorting out the implications... but what some are calling new taxes looks like the way [the governor] is going to keep cities whole,” said Deputy CIty Manager Phil Kamlarz. 

It is not all roses for the city, though, Kamlarz said.  

Closing a $23.6 billion budget gap in Sacramento, which Gov. Grey Davis aims to do in his budget proposal for next year, means other sacrifices are bound to trickle down to Berkeley, he added. 

One of the biggest losers in Davis’ proposed budget, released this week, is county government. California counties are slated for cuts of about $1 billion. City governments rely heavily on county programs to fill gaps in local services. 

According to District 14 Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, the burden falls almost entirely upon Health and Human Services agencies, meaning less money to fuel such county resources as medical clinics, insurance and Medi-Cal programs for the poor, and mental health assistance. 

“Berkeley will feel some of that,” she said. “And it’s going to play out largely on the city police department budget.” 

Instead of health and human service professionals addressing the problems, law enforcement will end up dealing with the criminal consequences of untreated persons, Aroner explained. 

The repercussions for Berkeley police are magnified by another Davis proposal that seeks to eliminate state reimbursements for city booking costs. 

Additionally, Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, in her State of the City address this week, identified problems with staffing already plaguing the city’s police department. 

Phone calls to Berkeley police were not returned. 

Fred Medrano, the city’s director of health and human services, affirmed that the city’s services appeared unharmed by the Governor’s revised budget. Berkeley is one of only three cities in the state that runs a health department. 

“It doesn’t look like there’s going to be a real major impact on existing city health services... The impacts are at the county level,” he said. 

Berkeley schools seemed to have been spared too. 

“Education has done very well,” said Aroner. Meeting the state’s required $32 billion contribution to schools was a top priority of the Governor, she said. 

In addition to revenues from increases in automobile fees and cigarette taxes, loans helped Davis fulfill many of his budget commitments, at least on paper. 

The May Revision calls for selling $4.5 billion worth of bonds to borrow from future tobacco settlement revenues as well as getting $4 billion from loans, transfers, and refinancing plans. 

“We’re still cautious because there might be some short-term solutions here that will affect us much later, after the [November] election,” Kamlarz said. 

Davis’ proposal is already receiving scrutiny, particularly from Republicans in Sacramento opposed to tax increases. The proposal is likely to admit several changes before its scheduled adoption on July 1.