The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a list of priorities for Riverside County’s state and federal lobbyists to pursue in 2019 and 2020 to enable the county to save money and operate more efficiently and safely, focusing on pension reform, greater entitlement funding, enhanced freight rail service and restoration of the Salton Sea.
The 45-page list of objectives will serve as the board’s legislative platform over a two-year period, and it will only be amended on an as-needed basis — without a complete list of priorities being submitted to supervisors for approval again next January.
Topping the county’s to-do list is a push for the state lobbying team and lawmakers from the county to encourage reform of the nascent Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or Proposition 64, which was incorporated into the broader Medicinal & Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation & Safety Act.
Board Chairman Kevin Jeffries and others have expressed concern that the tax scheme now imposed by the state on marijuana distributors, amounting to a 23 percent baseline sales tax, is too high. When localities impose their own taxes, the rate can climb to 40 percent — nearly half the cost of the product — on every sale.
The county is seeking a reduction in tax rates, similar to what has been done in Colorado and Washington, to prevent sellers from resorting to black market activity.
Unfunded pension liabilities in the county are approaching $3 billion, and the county is expected to divert close to $400 million in general fund revenue to support the retirement apparatus in the current fiscal year, with costs steadily escalating over the next decade.
The board wants stronger advocacy for a change in investment management at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
“We can take a more active position on this,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. “CalPERS needs to know that we’re not OK with how things are going. We’re not; I’m not. It’s not working, and it’s not sustainable.”
Executive Office staff noted in the platform that the state retirement fund, to which most county employees belong, “sinks further into the hole (every year), requiring a bailout from the state budget and local governments.”
“In the past 10 years, CalPERS has averaged a 4.4 percent return, while the stock market has gone up over 100 percent,” staff wrote in highlighting the need for pragmatic adjustments to the state’s investment policies.
The county is also making it a priority to intensify pressure on the state and federal governments to slash permitting requirements connected with restoration of the Salton Sea, and for the California Department of Water Resources to free up revenue from previously approved bond sales to allow the joint restoration project by Riverside and Imperial counties to move forward.
In October, the board established the Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District, initiating the process of paying for revitalization of the dying 360-square-mile lake.
The platform directs lobbyists to seek changes in state realignment to end funding disparities related to the county’s receipt of state money for mental health programs and child support services. According to the Executive Office, the county has been short-changed for several decades because of how realignment formulas were set in 1991.
Additionally, to lower rising jail inmate costs, the board is looking to reinforce its support for federal legislation that would no longer make counties automatically responsible for paying detainees’ healthcare costs when they enter the correctional system already insured.
Lobbyists were further directed to express the county’s desire for a short-haul rail service between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the Inland Empire, in order to reduce big rig traffic — and pollution — along freeways throughout the region. According to the legislative platform, providing state and federal transportation incentives might “induce railroad operators to commence short-haul service and invest in … intermodal facilities or rail yards.”
One of the problems confronting railroad operators is state environmental regulations that stymie construction of railway transfer stations, officials said.
As it has for the last few years, the platform emphasizes the need for the state to fully fund veterans services officers statewide by appropriating $11 million. According to county officials, only $5.6 million was allocated in the current fiscal year, leaving Riverside County and other jurisdictions unable to add personnel to their respective veterans services help centers.
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