By MICHAEL J. WILLIAMS / STAFF WRITER
Getting a bill passed to restore funding that four recently incorporated Riverside County cities lost in a 2011 state budget maneuver has proven to be a task of Sisyphean proportion.
Repeatedly, area legislators have pushed bills through the state legislature that would return the approximately $16 million per year taken from Jurupa Valley, Eastvale, Menifee and Wildomar -- only to see them vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown despite bipartisan support.
State Sen. Richard Roth, however, remains undaunted. The Riverside Democrat wrote SB 37, which, like SB 817 last year and SB 25 the year before, seeks to reverse the losses the four cities sustained when the state stripped their motor vehicle license fee revenue.
"This is an issue I have been fighting for since before I was elected to the state Senate and one I will continue to fight for until we have secured a victory," Roth said in written statement.
The current bill proposes an adjustment to the vehicle license fee allocation formula to bring the four newest communities back up to par with other cities. The proposed law cleared its first hurdle Wednesday, March 15 when the bipartisan Senate Committee on Governance and Finance voted 7-0 in favor and sent it to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Roth's Communications Director Shrujal Joseph said he expects SB 37 to receive unanimous support, as did SB 817, and reach the governor's desk. The senator's not giving up hope that the governor will have a change of heart, Joseph said.
"There are a variety of factors that go into the decision-making process in the governor's office," Joseph said. "Hopefully, this is the year he says this is the right thing to do."
When Jurupa Valley, Eastvale, Wildomar and Menifee became cities in years 2008 through 2011, they were earmarked to receive higher shares of the state's motor vehicle license fee revenue than their established counterparts. The greater amounts were intended to help new cities survive and flourish.
Thus, the legislature's 11th-hour decision in June 2011 to shift cities' license fee revenue to a public safety program had a disproportionate effect on the new municipalities.
Jurupa Valley officials learned their city would lose nearly $7 million per year, about 46 percent of its general fund, two days before cityhood went into effect. The general fund is a government agency's budget for daily operating expenditures, including public safety services.
The blow to Jurupa Valley led its City Council to initiate proceedings to disincorporate. That direction was later dropped when the budget picture improved, thanks in part to a bill relieving the new cities of debts they owed Riverside County for incorporation aid.
Now, the annual loss from the license fee shift is about 25 percent, City Manager Gary Thompson said.
"We've been surviving, but barely," he said. "We're not out of the woods yet."
Eastvale lost nearly $3.5 million annually, about 40 percent of its general fund at the time. Wildomar experienced a $1.8 million decrease, more than 20 percent of its general fund. Menifee, the largest of the four cities, lost $4.2 million, around 17 percent of its general fund.
"It's been very detrimental for us and the other three cities," Menifee Mayor Neil Winter said of the losses. "Hopefully, we'll get that formula adjusted and we'll see the revenue that we rightfully should see."