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Looking Behind the Scenes: Balance the budget with across-the-board cuts

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Disinfecting the notebook while considering that with so many probable Republican presidential hopefuls stepping on their peccadillos these days, perhaps the GOP ought to re-open the Mustang Ranch for its next convention ... Meanwhile, elected officials from both sides of the aisle continue their combined missteps in the ever-fainter hopes of getting a state budget, and propelling the nation out of this fiscal morass. But there’s at least one hopeful sign, and it comes via e-mail from Jacob Roper of the Office of the State Controller. Mr. Roper saw the column about the per diem onslaught continuing despite cuts in health services, public safety and even state workers jobs. And — bless his heart — he provided information that should hearten most of us, particularly in regard to IOUs. As he wrote: “The line between who is paid with a regular warrant, or a registered warrant (IOU) is drawn by the state’s constitution, federal law and court decisions.” Roper continued, writing that “Legislators’ per diem is not given first claim on cash.” The translation is that those same legislators’ will also have their per diem paid in IOUs, which means they, too, can wallpaper whole rooms of their mansions while we wait for them to stumble into a solution. Possible solution: We are indebted to Todd Juvinall, a former Nevada County supervisor, for the best suggestion we’ve heard so far. Juvinall proposes that the legislators figure out what percentage of the budget needs to be cut in order to pay the outstanding bills and deficits and get the lights turned on again. Let’s arbitrarily pick 17 percent as the needed number. With that in hand, Juvinall goes on to suggest an across-the-board 17 percent cut in every state department, office and commission. “Let each department manager work out what to cut, and then get the politicians’ micromanaging out of the way.” he said. While we’re cutting; If you think per diem stinks, well, consider what those Sacramento politicos are doing to the deficit with their vehicle allowances. It’s bad enough we overpay them $116,208 base salary, along with a frightful $36,000 or so for per diem, but they also feel we overburdened taxpayers owe them a free ride. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California is one of just three states that provide our legislators with practically free use of a state vehicle. Lucky us! And we’re also in the minority when it comes to which states provide pre-paid gasoline credit cards to them. They pay about 10 percent of the vehicle’s cost, but in doing so, are then allowed to use that car for personal travel. Although we had some difficulty in getting exact figures out of Sacramento, we’re pretty comfortable in reporting that the state has spent more than a million dollars per year for the past three years on just providing cars to our assembly members and state senators, And for the record, Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, is one of just five state senators who declined the offer of a taxpayers’ funded vehicle... Firefighter cuts: While many entities are slashing public safety budgets, which usually results in police and firefighting layoffs, not all of the cuts are caused by budgetary matters. As of this past Wednesday, the Newcastle Fire Protection District has four fewer volunteer firefighters than it had the day before. District Chairman Bob Stearns explained that the departures were caused by the district dusting off a previously enforced requirement that volunteers live within the confines of the district. “It’s all about response time,” he said, adding that the four losses represented a two-thirds cut in the district’s minuscule volunteer force. Stearns added that all four were offered the opportunity to apply for positions in the residential firefighters program. “We even sent application forms with the (dismissal) letters,” he said. Newcastle needs all the help it can get. The paid staff consists of six full-timers and a chief, and the residential contingent could hold its staff meetings in a sub-standard SUV. Meanwhile, the search for a replacement for the nearly dilapidated downtown Station 41 firehouse continues, although if Newcastle doesn’t get any new residential firefighters, it might need only a tent and parking stall to house its entire fire department. By the way, we tried to contact the four volunteers who were let go; so if they want to get in touch with me, my e-mail address is listed below. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at jimruffalo@yahoo.com.