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Senate Democrats on Monday unveiled their plan to give counties greater control of state programs, potentially shedding $3 billion to $4 billion in ongoing costs to the state budget.

Many of the programs are already delivered by counties but paid for through state coffers. Senate Democrats see their changes as a more appropriate "realignment" of services and costs over the next four years.

Their plan would not cut taxpayer costs but rather give counties new forms of revenues to pay for the added responsibilities. The state would approve a tax on oil production, permanently extend the state's higher vehicle-license fee rate and delay corporate tax breaks. It would also give counties greater authority to seek local tax hikes from voters.

"If you're going to plant your flag around some reasonable revenue, plant it next to a long-term plan to restructure government in California," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

The biggest component involves shifting as much as $2.6 billion in annual welfare-to-work costs to counties. Under the Senate Democratic plan, counties would be responsible for 25 percent of CalWORKs grants, compared to 2.5 percent today. Counties also would become responsible for CalWORKs child care -- more than $1 billion annually -- and take over more administrative duties.

The Senate Democratic plan borrows some ideas from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's May budget proposal by shifting state juvenile parole services and low-level inmates to counties. It also makes counties responsible for drug Medi-Cal programs, offender treatment services and the state's Drug Court.

And counties would take over Adult Protective Services and Department of Aging programs.

Steinberg said the plan would cut the state's current $19.1 billion deficit, but it is not yet clear by how much. In 2010-11, the state would offload $3.1 billion in costs. To pay for those costs, however, Senate Democrats propose using some revenues they had counted on for other purposes in their previous budget plan.

Republicans said Monday they were willing to work with Democrats on a "realignment" plan, but they opposed the idea of using new taxes to pay for county costs.

"Raising taxes to pay for the shift of programs isn't shrinking government, it's just avoiding the inevitable: state government has to get smaller and more efficient in this day and age," said Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth in a statement.



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