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Davis budget sounds alarm for county

May 15, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

County officials reacted to Gov. Gray Davis' $23.6 billion deficit state budget revision Tuesday with alarm and more questions.

County Executive Officer Ann Capela said she was not surprised the shortfall was greater than predicted but was surprised at how great it was.

County Agricultural Commissioner Stephen Birdsall said he was disappointed to see the cuts in the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

Davis' budget plan in January proposed a $12 billion deficit.

Capela said Davis' January budget was based on assumptions but was revised Tuesday when the state calculated its revenue.

"What Davis has put out is very broad. We don't know how this will apply to Imperial County," she said.

County staff and local city representatives are going to Sacramento today to get specific answers, Capela said.

Davis' plan includes $7.6 billion in cuts to health programs and local government.

County Intergovernmental Agency Director Bob Ham said he thinks Davis' latest budget proposes to cut $1 billion from local governments, including public safety, health and welfare and social services programs.

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There are cuts in this revision that were in Davis' January budget proposal that legislators indicated they were not going to go along with, Ham said.

He said he wouldn't bet the governor and state legislature will agree on a budget by the constitutional deadline of July 1.

Bill Lyons, secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture, said the state's budget deficit will cut $7.1 million from his department's programs.

Davis' budget proposes to cut $580,000 from plant diagnostic services which identifies pests for evaluation of pest disease and infestations.

Department of Food and Agriculture spokesman Steve Lyle said the cut probably will effect research and testing for new types of pest traps. Diagnosis won't be changed but will probably be delayed, he said.

Ham said this is a big loss because Imperial County shares a border with Mexico and Arizona and needs to monitor pests.

Birdsall said insect identification is a useful tool in early detection of disease and identification of new diseases.

Lyons also said $3 million will be cut from the five-year $15 million Buy California program but added the governor is still extremely supportive of the program.

Birdsall said the program addresses important problems in Imperial County. For the last few years some cantaloupes grown in Mexico have come into the U.S. with salmonella.

Melons from Mexico are harvested earlier and reach the market first. An outbreak of salmonella can ruin the prospects for California melons, which go to market later in the season, Birdsall said.

Once there is an outbreak, people stop buying cantaloupes. They have no way of telling which melons are grown in the U.S., where the sanitation standards are higher, and which are grown in Mexico, he said.

The Buy California program would identify which melons are grown in California and increase the buyers' confidence in a quality product, Birdsall said.

In addition, Lyons announced the state's program to control Pierce's disease will lose $1.5 million. Pierce's disease cost the wine industry millions of dollars in losses.

Birdsall said there have been minor infestations in Imperial County along the Riverside County border, but it is not much of a problem because grapes won't grow in most parts of the county.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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