11:36 PM PST on Friday, November 26, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

The next year will be busy for Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione.

Voters in June elected Tavaglione to his fifth term on the board, and his peers from across California last week selected him president of the California State Association of Counties.

The association, founded in 1895, represents California’s 58 counties before the Legislature, state administrative agencies and the federal government.

Tavaglione takes over at a difficult time for county governments. California continues to struggle with a $25.4 billion deficit, and county officials remain wary that lawmakers in Sacramento will raid their coffers to help fund state government.

He recently answered questions via e-mail about issues facing California’s counties. Here are excerpts: Q: What does it mean for you to be recognized by your peers and voted in as the California State Association of Counties president?

A: “This is arguably one of the most challenging times counties have faced in decades, and I look forward to addressing those challenges head-on for the protection of county government.” Q: California’s counties are diverse in size, population, geography and politics. How do you build consensus among them?

A: “Communication, communication, and communication! The constant need to be in front of the diverse members of our organization — instilling in them that while we range from 2,500 population (Alpine) to 10 million (Los Angeles) … we all deliver the same service — just in different scopes and sizes.”Q: What is the single biggest issue facing California’s 58 counties?

A: “The protection of county revenues. The state Legislature continues to look to local government revenues (primarily counties) to balance their own budget.”Q: The budget picture in Sacramento is only getting worse. The latest estimates show a $25.4 billion shortfall. What can be done to protect county revenues?

A: “When the Legislature passed this year’s budget 100 days late in their attempt to fill a $19.1 billion gap, I believe they just ‘kicked the can down the road,’ purely for purposes of getting through the recent November elections and a new governor. …

“What is extremely disturbing to me, is that while most ‘local governments’ (counties, cities, school districts, and special districts) across the state have been downsizing, reducing programs, and in most cases reducing their employee ranks in order to live within their means, the state Legislature has done little to nothing to reduce their expenses.

“Today, the state of California has 340,000 employees — the same number it had during the beginning of the state’s deep recession, which began in December ’07. In contrast, Riverside County has reduced its employee ranks by nearly 2,000 … Sacramento County has reduced its workforce by 3,000.”

Q: How does CSAC believe the state should overcome that budget shortfall?

A: “While CSAC and its 58 member counties are very diverse in their size and demographics, most will agree that the state cannot overcome the growing deficit without a balance of cuts and some increases in revenue.

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