Sacramento County Board of Supervisors

SN&R candidate questions answered here

Here are the Web-only responses to the SN&R endorsement questionnaire from the candidates for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.

District 1: Phil Serna

1. How did the county of Sacramento come to be in the fiscal crisis it is now in with a budget shortfall of $166.5 million? Do you think current board members are culpable for having done too little too late to avert the current predicament?

Our county’s budget is as vulnerable to the economic downturn as any individual or household circumstance. More unemployment and underemployment means less income tax to the state. Less money to spend means less sales tax collected. And declining home values mean less property tax.

Our generation has come to expect that every year we will earn more, our homes will be worth more, and that our economy will grow more. So while it is easy to see the fallacy in these assumptions now, there was no basis in people’s past experience to change our traditional behavior until the Great Recession hit us. Today we realize that sound fiscal policy should reflect an understanding of two simple principles—we cannot spend more than we have, and we should not mortgage our future beyond our means. While there’s no doubt the current fiscal crisis is very painful for all of us, we have an opportunity to learn from it, avoid complacency and ensure Sacramento County is better prepared for the next economic decline.

2. What policies would you propose to ensure sustainable budgets in the future?

The lessons for all of us are clear. We cannot base our budget assumptions on uninterrupted, linear growth and new development. We have to exercise practical and prudent reserve savings for the county during prosperous times, and we have to treat one-time money as just that, and only spend it on one-time expenditures.

3. Where would you look for opportunities to increase county revenue? For example: Do you support new alcohol sales tax at bars and restaurants? How much tax is appropriate? Should that money go to the general fund or be reserved for specific purposes?

I have been and will continue to push for a change in state law to allow voters the ability to adopt a local tax on alcohol consumed in bars and restaurants. Statewide it is estimated such a tax could generate over $500 million annually. Sacramento County could collect tens of millions of dollars it does not currently receive. Alcohol has an impact on our community, and it should be taxed appropriately to address costs to taxpayers, including those for law enforcement, our county jail, child and adult protective services, mental health, probation, and human assistance, among others.

4. What can be done to better consolidate services with the incorporated areas to save money? Be specific.

Local governments, including Sacramento County, no longer have the luxury to ignore the prospect of service consolidation. The region, county, municipalities and special districts should work collaboratively to determine where higher efficiency can be attained and service delivery improved.

There may be opportunities to explore consolidating services in many aspects of local government, including but not limited to fire protection; water delivery; and planning, building and environmental review services.

5. Do you support volunteer efforts to help keep certain county institutions operating in realms that might otherwise be shut down altogether, e.g., the county parks?

I think there are ways that people can volunteer to help. But I don’t favor walking away from our obligation to provide citizens with basic services.

6. What is your opinion about what county-employee unions should be asked to do to help in this crisis?

They have been asked to make sacrifices and they have.

7. Should the county do anything differently when it comes to approving new development?

I think we need to make sure that development fully mitigates its impacts and costs.

8. Do you believe that California’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” A.B. 32 is a net job creator or job killer for Sacramento County? Does the county have an obligation to support this law?

I support A.B. 32. I think it will continue to generate jobs locally. Just look at what is happening at McClellan Park, where a new solar manufacturing facility has opened and has the potential to create thousands of local jobs. We have an opportunity in our county and in our region to incubate renewable energy industries that could employ thousands of out-of-work citizens.

The next supervisor for District 1 has an obligation to actively cultivate those new jobs at places like McClellan Park. If elected, I fully intend to.

9. The county is an important partner on the Sacramento Regional Transit board. What ideas do you have for preserving and improving our local public transportation system?

We must increase ridership. Unfortunately, our national transportation policies do not reflect a real commitment to expanding mass transit.

Locally, however, we can inspire ridership by planning communities to feature greater commuter choice, whether it’s light rail, designated bus lanes, traditional bus service or all three. For too long, public transportation has been an afterthought in the planning process. It should be the centerpiece of a new planning paradigm at the county of Sacramento, one that takes seriously the connection between responsible land use planning and the efficient movement of people.

10. Clearly, the county is in a financial crisis of near-unprecedented proportions where severe cuts to needed programs will occur. What would you do, after all the cuts are made, to ensure that basic services to Sacramento’s most needy citizens are still available?

I will protect vital services to the most needy in our community, including children, the elderly and the sick. Those of us more fortunate should do what we can to help those who cannot help themselves.

Unlike other levels of local government, it is the county that functions as the local “safety net” for citizens requiring health and mental-health services, and critical social services. Those affected by abuse, illness, neglect and violence cannot be expected to bear the full brunt of our budget crisis.

Serna was the only candidate for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to return an endorsement questionnaire.