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S.D. Officials Seek To Block State Borrowing From Local Governments

Elected officials from around San Diego County today announced a statewide signature-gathering effort to qualify a ballot measure seeking to block the state's ability to borrow funds from local municipalities to balance its budget.

Organizers need to collect about 700,000 signatures by April 12 to qualify the so-called Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Act for the November ballot.

If ultimately passed, the measure would close loopholes in existing laws to prevent the state from taking, diverting or borrowing funds slated for local governments.

The state shifted about $50 million in redevelopment dollars away from the city of San Diego alone last year, and threatened to raid millions more in gasoline tax revenues.

"Today with the state facing a $21 billion deficit, there is certainly the possibility that the state will come knocking again. And if they do, local services will almost certainly be impacted and have to be scaled back," San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said. "The bottom line is, balancing the state budget on the backs of cities is unfair."

Sanders was joined at City Hall by mayors and council members from San Diego, Escondido, Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach, Poway, Coronado and Santee, along with local transportation officials and representatives from the San Diego Association of Governments and League of California Cities.

"This initiative not only nails down key local government revenues, it's about changing the constitution so that these funds cannot be pried loose by state politicians," Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said.

Robin Lowe, a Hemet City Council member and president of the League of California Cities, said similar events will be held around the state in the coming weeks to urge residents to sign petitions to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Lowe said the Legislature has left local government leaders no better option than to go to voters to prevent the continued borrowing of local funds by the state.

"The message is very clear, if we want to get results from the Legislature, we are going to have to take it to the people," she said.

Escondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler said her city cannot afford to give up more money to the state when its coffers have already been hit hard by the recession.

"We as residents need to know that when we pay our taxes, they are going to go where we expected them to go, and if they are local dollars we expect them to go to pay for our local services," she said.

Paul Jablonski, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Transit System, said the transportation agency's budget has been "gutted" by the state to the tune of about $100 million.

"What the state of California has done to public transportation over the last three years is nothing less than a travesty," he said.

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