By Dan Walters The Sacramento Bee
Published: Monday, Feb. 8, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

A year ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature enacted a budget package noteworthy for a rare increase in taxes – but getting the required two-thirds votes involved old-fashioned horse trading.

Sen. Lou Correa, an Orange County Democrat, refused, for instance, to vote for the tax package until it included an extra $35 million a year (later growing to $50 million) in property taxes for his county government. The money was shifted from local schools, which means the state makes up the difference to schools under the complex California school funding formula.

The rationale for the shift was that Orange received the smallest percentage of local property taxes of any county. And – coincidentally, without a doubt – the $35 million was almost identical to the amount county supervisors were seeking in concessions from their unions.

Schwarzenegger blessed the deal, by the way, even though it’s exactly the same kind of political logrolling that he decries in the allocation of federal funds to the states. Et tu, gubernator?

As the Orange juice flowed, another senator, Yolo County’s Lois Wolk, took note. While Orange had the lowest level of county property tax revenue in the state, just 7 percent, Yolo was second-lowest at 9 percent. And Wolk quickly told legislative leaders that she wanted a similar deal for her county.

Fast-forward to last month. Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto, who had supported the 2009 tax increase and lost his Republican leadership position in the aftermath, carried a bill, approved by the Assembly on a 71-1 vote, to give six small counties additional shares of property taxes to compensate for a glitch in the aid formula adopted 31 years earlier, after Proposition 13’s passage.

However, one more provision was inserted into the Cogdill bill: an additional $100,000 in property taxes for Yolo County in 2011-12 and $200,000 more a year thereafter, thus responding to Wolk’s demands.

It’s a slippery slope. Why shouldn’t San Bernardino County, whose 10 percent property tax allocation is third-lowest and which is feeling the financial pinch, also press for a greater share? A number of other counties fall into the 11-12 percent range, as the California Taxpayers Association points out.

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