The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

June 21, 2010
Darrell Steinberg is sounding a little like Pete Wilson

Who would have thought that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg would be taking  pages from the books of Presidents Nixon and Reagan, and Gov. Pete Wilson?

The Sacramento Democrat today proposed to devolve state duties to counties, not unlike Republicans who sought to shrink the size of federal and state governments, and turn over duties to the states and locals.

If Steinberg succeeds, state government might get somewhat smaller, and counties would grow. The state also might find a way to reduce its deficit.

The Editorial Board is formulating its view. We'd like to know what you think. Steinberg's proposal can be found here. Bee news pages previously described the concept. A report on today's announcement can be found on Capitol Alert.

Wilson was particularly aggressive, giving locals increased control over mental health care and other programs back in the early 1990s when the state last faced deep annual deficits. The reviews were mixed.

Essentially, in an effort to help solve the state's $19.1 billion budget, Steinberg is proposing to turn over specific duties to the counties, and shift money to pay for it.

"We are all tired of propping us this structure, which doesn't work for the people of California," he said at a press conference today, attended by other Democratic senators, Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan.

As a first step, Steinberg would give counties take more authority over parole and corrections. In time, he would shift more welfare responsibilities to counties, and give them direct responsibilities for caring for the elderly.

The concept would not eliminate the state deficit. But it probably would lead to the elimination of the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, and the Department of Aging.

Steinberg would pay for it in a variety of ways including raising oil taxes and shifting contends vehicle license fees, and by delaying business tax breaks approved as part of last year's budget deal.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't slamming the door on the idea, said his press secretary, Aaron McLear:

"We're open to restructuring government and will have a serious debate about the proposal but increasing taxes and discouraging private sector growth would be a mistake. We're also encouraged that Senator Steinberg agrees that we need to consider long-term fixes, which is why budget, tax, and pension reform must be part of any solution."

McGowan said counties aren't opposed, at least not yet, so long as they receive money to pay for their new responsibilities.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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