Analysis of the 2008-09 Budget Bill: General Government

Office of Emergency Services (0690)

The Office of Emergency Services (OES) is responsible for assuring the state’s readiness to respond to and recover from natural and man–made emergencies. During an emergency, the office functions as the Governor’s immediate staff to coordinate the state’s responsibilities under the Emergency Services Act. It also coordinates federal assistance for natural disaster grants. Since 2003–04, OES has administered criminal justice grant programs formerly managed by the Office of Criminal Justice Planning. Funding for the Office of Homeland Security is also included in the OES budget.

The Governor’s budget proposes to spend approximately $1.5 billion in support of OES in 2008–09. Over $1 billion of this amount is from federal funds, primarily local assistance funding for disaster assistance and homeland security grants. The department’s General Fund budget–year spending is proposed to decrease by 24 percent to $199 million, largely due to one–time 2007–08 expenditures associated with the 2007 Southern California wildfires and General Fund budget reductions of $21 million proposed in the budget year.

Restructure Local Assistance for Public Safety

Rather than impose across–the–board reductions on local assistance public safety programs, we instead recommend that the Legislature prioritize program reductions according to programs’ objectives, sources of funding, and overall effectiveness. In the “Criminal Justice” chapter, we make various budget–year funding recommendations for OES’s public safety programs.

As discussed in the “Crosscutting Issues” section of the “Criminal Justice” chapter, the state provides financial assistance to local governments for various public safety activities, including both law enforcement and programs focused on preventing crime and reducing recidivism. These local assistance programs are funded through different departmental budgets, including the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, OES, and the Department of Justice. Other local assistance is provided through state sales tax revenue and through subvention programs administered by the State Controller. Under the Governor’s budget plan, funding for local public safety programs administered by OES would total $71 million in 2007–08 and $65 million in 2008–09—reflecting the Governor’s across–the–board approach to reducing each program’s funding by roughly 10 percent. However, not all programs are the same. Programs differ in terms of objectives, sources of funding, and overall effectiveness. In the “Criminal Justice” chapter, we recommend that the Legislature prioritize program reductions and make specific funding recommendations for OES’s public safety programs.

Decision on Fire Engines Tied to Surcharge Proposal

We withhold recommendation on a $10 million expansion of the Office of Emergency Services’ wildland firefighting capacity pending the Legislature’s key decisions on a new funding source for such costs.

Administration’s Insurance Surcharge. In order to expand OES’s firefighting capacity, the 2007–08 Budget Act includes funding for 19 new fire engines. The department now has 119 engines. During the recent 2007 Southern California wildfires, the department used its own fire protection resources, and when necessary, utilized existing mutual aid agreements to draw on additional resources both from within and outside of the state. As we discuss in more detail in the “Department of Forestry and Fire Protection” writeup in the “Resources” chapter, the administration proposes to authorize a new surcharge on the insurance tax to cover wildland firefighting costs. Through the surcharge, the administration proposes to nearly double OES’s fire protection budget and add 131 new fire engines over the next five years. The proposal would provide $10 million for OES fire protection in 2008–09. The funds would be used to purchase 26 fire engines and related equipment at a cost of $8.1 million. The remaining funds would be used to backfill existing General Fund resources that are proposed to be deleted as a budget balancing reduction.

Withhold Recommendation. As we discuss in the “Resources” chapter, we recommend that the Legislature adopt an alternative funding mechanism for wildland firefighting costs—a fee on state responsibility area property owners. We withhold recommendation on OES’s request until the Legislature makes key decisions on a potential new funding source—including the funding mechanism, the amount to be raised, and the timing of implementation. Once those decisions are made, it will be easier to put OES’s request in context of the state’s overall firefighting approach.  

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