Several Alameda County officials met and hosted a forum at The Way Christian Center in Berkeley on Friday to discuss Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to shift responsibility for certain state services to local governments.
Programs including mental health services, child and foster care and criminal justice have been proposed to be transferred to local entities as a cost-saving measure. While most of the speakers at the forum — including Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson — said they believe realignment would be beneficial to the community in the long run, all stated they had concerns about funding.
“Local governments have been providing budgetary support to the state for almost two decades,” said Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi.
For example, Muranishi said a total of about $3.4 billion in property taxes that should have gone to counties were instead transferred to the state government. Counties have already been heavily depleted of necessary funds, and transferring services without adequate financial support at this point would stretch them even further, she said.
Carson said there are three guarantees counties need in order to make the realignment proposal work. First, he said, is flexibility in how counties could respond to their new responsibility. In addition, he said counties need to be given legal and financial protection that was written in the U.S. Constitution. Carson said having the laws be constitutionally mandated would allow legislators to use them as a reference in the future.
Each service facing a transfer is preparing for what changes need to be made and how they will impact the community. According to Michael Corbett, a partner at Suter, Wallauch, Corbett & Associates, in the criminal justice sector, one of the biggest proposals is that low-level offenders will now be sent to county jails instead of to state penitentiaries.
Corbett added that there is a misconception that this proposed shift means prisoners would be released immediately, while in fact it would only apply to people who were sent to court after the proposal was enacted.
“It’s prospective,” he said. “It’s a process that’s going to take a while to get fully implemented.”
Lori Jones, interim co-director of the Alameda County Social Services Agency, said this type of miscommunication between legislators, counties and the public is another barrier that must be addressed.
“There’s a lack of clarity of what exactly is being realigned and counties feeling like they’re not sure what to expect,” she said.
Alex Briscoe, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, agreed. Briscoe said the county needs to be able to keep up with and keep track of the proposals being drafted by legislators to prevent further budget cuts to essential programs.
Officials at the forum said they also need to make sure legislators recognize that each county has individual standards, which they said aren’t being acknowledged currently.
“Here, there’s a higher cost of living, higher property values, higher gas prices,” Skinner said, “There’s a fixation that one size fits all, no matter where they’re located in the state.”
Were the realignment proposal to be successfully implemented, Jones said, it is important that county officials not forget the progress they have made by collaborating and communicating with one another.
“It really is setting the stage for how we should be doing this and standing forward,” Jones said.