President Barack Obama triumphed and Proposition 30 passed, but the looming federal "fiscal cliff" and California's ongoing budget woes spell a rough next few years financially for local governments. A perfect storm of potential automatic federal cuts and state budget deficits could lead to drastic reductions in funding for local public safety, social services, health care and transportation.
The "fiscal cliff" refers to the combination of tax increases caused by expiring Bush-era tax cuts and spending cuts dictated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. If Congress allows the tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012 as scheduled, more revenue would be available for government programs.
Some argue, however, that increasing taxes would slow down the economic recovery.
A series of federal trigger cuts, called "sequestration," are simultaneously set to go into effect starting Jan. 2, 2013. The automatic cuts arise from the failure of a congressional supercommittee to deliver a compromise deficit reduction plan following this past summer's debt ceiling negotiations. The federal deficit totaled about $1.1 trillion in fiscal year 2012, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Federal trigger cuts would lead to automatic, across-the-board funding reductions equally affecting defense and non-defense discretionary programs. By law, Congress would be required to find annual savings in the order of $54.6 billion in defense and $54.5 billion in non-defense spending over the next nine years.
With little changed in Congress following last Tuesday's election, the parties are still hotly debating solutions to the fiscal cliff crisis.
Democrats want to save social programs and allow tax cuts for the wealthy to expire. Republicans are fighting to prevent defense cuts and believe tax increases for wealthy Americans would harm economic growth.
More political gridlock would be devastating for the economy, as well as for people who rely upon government agencies for support in times of need.
The superstorm caused by automatic cuts would impact all residents, regardless of income level.
For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief would suffer a $580 million cutback nationwide, leading to smaller reserves for recovery efforts in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy.
Other program reductions are planned in the areas of transportation, education, criminal justice, health and human services, economic development, housing, environmental protection, and more.
All 58 counties in California could potentially see declining federal funding in services for senior citizens, substance abuse and mental health programs, assistance for needy families, supplemental nutrition assistance program, the Housing and Urban Development Community Development block grant, HUD homeless assistance and other programs.
For example, the substance abuse primary prevention programs run by Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services could be affected by a $275 million nationwide cut. A $92 million nationwide cut to the Community Oriented Policing Services grants could affect county public safety programs. In Alameda County, the COPS funding pays for 50 percent of the sheriff's bullet-proof vests and partially funds 15 community policing deputies.
Local businesses and institutions could also be impacted by less money available from federal contracts, which translate into hundreds of jobs for local residents.
California narrowly averted a second storm beginning in 2013 with the passing of Proposition 30.
In addition to raising essential funds for K-12 and community college education, Proposition 30 amends the California Constitution to guarantee funding for local public safety programs for the next five years.
The responsibility for these programs was passed down to the county level in 2011 as part of Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment plan.
Even though Proposition 30 passed, California faces a fiscal year-end deficit of about $1.9 billion, according to a report Wednesday by the Legislative Analyst's Office. Much of this shortfall is due to inaccurate revenue projections and overly optimistic budget solutions that were not fully implemented or have been held up in court.
In this climate of federal and state rollbacks, local elected officials are working with their hands tied behind their backs as they fight to maintain essential operations while being forced to make painful program reductions.
To prepare for the coming wave of cuts, local government must leverage public and private funding sources and, unfortunately, ask our service providers to do more with less.
Americans have shown they agree with President Barack Obama's policies. Now Congress must acknowledge the voters' vision and work cooperatively with the president to achieve a reasonable compromise to reduce the deficit without decimating critical safety net services that all residents depend on.