Today, June 9, 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to begin hearings on the more than $5 billion county budget. With anticipated revenue sharply down and the state legislature looking at borrowing from local governments to cover their deficit, this year’s process is shaping up to be very painful. County staff are recommending reductions in budget spending by $1.2 billion to fill in the gap.
The Orange Count Register’s Jennifer Muir reports today that public safety departments in the county, including the Sheriff, District Attorney, Probation, and the Public DefenderÂ are facing $50 million in cuts.
The Sheriff’s department faces the deepest cutbacks, at $27 million, followed by the district attorney at $10.6 million. Probation is looking at a $4.9 million reduction and the public defender would lose $1.5 million.
Every public safety agency has asked for more money, and behind the scenes, many have been urging supervisors to consider giving them extra relief.
Budget planners say public safety is a target because they’ve been spared while all the other county departments have been shrinking in recent years. For example, there were more than 4,200 furloughs and more than 100 social services employees lost their jobs during across-the-board budget reductions in January. This year’s budget includes eliminating a total of 230 jobs left vacant after layoffs last year.
On Sunday the OC Register’s Steven Greenhut gloated over the falling state and county revenues and as usual tried to lay the blame solely at the feat of county workers and their pensions. Promoting the same tired old line that the average county worker retires at with more than 80% of their salary in pension benefits. His numbers are based upon hypothetical employees that simply do not exist. But why let facts get in the way of rhetoric.
Greenhut goes on to repeat Supervisor John Moorlach’s claim that bankruptcy may be the only way for the county to survive the estimated reduction of $42 million if the state borrows from local governments. Moorlach, again is screaming at passing cars. Bankruptcy is not the answer and he knows it, he just wants a crack at attacking existing pension benefits through bankruptcy.
This type of short-sighted approach is what we have come to expect from Supervisor Moorlach. While he is busy wasting taxpayer money on office remodels, unnecessary lobby reconstruction and frivolous lawsuits, he reminds everyone how great a predictor of the future he is because he predicted, and then scared the Board of Supervisors into, the countyÂ bankruptcyÂ of 1994. Had the county held out a little while longer, there would have been no need for bankruptcy, but Chicken Little Moorlach would have nothing of that.
The county should use reserves and borrowing methods to address any temporary reductions in state revenue caused by the state withholding local revenue. That is the sensible way to address the problems of or economy that has tanked. Supervisors should look at cutting unnecessary expenditures before cutting jobs and services. They must protect the vital network of services the public relies on and that they have been elected to oversee. Knee-jerk reactions and opportunistic raiding of public employee pay and benefits is not the way to address this shortfall in funding.
So for the next two days we get to watch and see, what the Board comes up with. The Warlock Moorlach will undoubtedly peer into his crystal ball and predict the future rapture of county government. The only question is will the rest of the Board believe his visions.