April 08, 2015

Another try at restoring funds to cities

BY JEFF HORSEMAN / The Press-Enterprise

The third attempt to restore millions of dollars to four cities in Riverside County passed a state Senate committee Wednesday, although it’s unclear whether this bill, too, will be vetoed by the governor.

By a bipartisan, unanimous vote, the Committee on Governance and Finance passed the bill sponsored by Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside. The bill would restore vehicle license fee revenue to the Inland area’s four newest cities.

Wildomar Mayor Ben Benoit said he hoped Gov. Jerry Brown’s office will support the new bill.

“I believe there’s optimism, but it’s critical that the governor’s office and the Department of Finance are supportive as this moves forward so we can get the governor’s signature,” Benoit said.

Roth thanked his Senate colleagues on the committee for moving the bill forward.

“(The bill) provides funding for the newly incorporated cities of Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Menifee and Wildomar, which all lost critical funding through no fault of their own,” Roth said in a news release.

The bill goes to the Senate appropriations committee for consideration.

The four cities have incorporated in the past decade. In 2011, they lost up to $19 million in fee revenue when lawmakers, facing a budget crunch, transferred the money to pay for law enforcement grants.

While all cities lost revenue, the hit was especially harsh for new cities, which rely on vehicle license fees for a greater percentage of their budgets. Jurupa Valley officials have warned they might have to dissolve the city if the money isn’t restored.

Roth, who represents Jurupa Valley and Eastvale, sponsored similar legislation last year.

It passed the Legislature without opposition, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, saying he was concerned about its long-term effects on the state’s general fund. The governor vetoed a similar bill in 2012.

Local Republican leaders openly wondered if politics was behind the Democratic governor’s veto. Four years ago, Brown said GOP state lawmakers forced him to divert vehicle license fees because they refused to consider higher taxes on income, sales and vehicles.

That led some Inland GOP elected officials to accuse Brown of seeking revenge against their constituents. The loss of vehicle license fees so angered then-Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone that, in 2011, he suggested California be split in two.

Stone is now a Republican senator from Temecula. He has suggested other ways to restore the money, including having the state provide low-interest loans to the four cities.

Menifee Mayor Scott Mann appealed to Brown’s time as Oakland mayor and dealing with police, paramedics and potholes.

“He knows, and his staff knows, that there are four cities languishing out there that do not get the same funding that every city in the state gets,” said Mann, who is chairman of the county GOP. “And as a former mayor himself, he should recognize that he should sign this bill when it gets to his desk.”

Staff writers Tom Sheridan and Michael Williams contributed to this report.


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