Did you know San Bernardino County gets less in return for the tax dollars we send to Sacramento than the state’s major urban centers?
On the Nov. 8 ballot, the Fair-Share Initiative will give San Bernardino County voters an opportunity to direct the Board of Supervisors to determine whether our communities are getting our fair share of state resources and to pursue means of ensuring that our county gets the most for our tax dollars.
This ballot measure has received a lot of attention from across the country because it asks if one of the strategies the county should consider to attain fiscal equity should include secession from California by forming a new state or by joining a neighboring state. This option would be very difficult to achieve, and all five supervisors truly love calling California our home.
However, none of us is willing to stop short of doing everything we can to ensure that the dollars we send to the state are put to work addressing our most pressing needs, such as increasing public safety, eliminating homelessness, spurring job creation and economic development, and providing quality roads and other infrastructure.
At its core, the measure is about a study, and about effective engagement with state decision-makers. Exploring secession would be a last resort. If we ignored that option, however, it would signal that we are not as determined and committed as we must be in defense of our communities.
A comprehensive study would allow the county to glean data that will help us develop more effective strategies for securing the appropriate return on our tax dollars and adoption of policies our residents deserve. The county needs a seat at the table in discussions of effective government so that funding and policy decisions consider the size of our county — geographically larger than nine states and more populous than 15.
A preliminary look at State Controller data shows that although San Bernardino County has the fifth-highest number of residents, it is in the bottom third of the state’s 58 counties when it comes to funding. This inequity needs to be investigated.
The Inland Empire as a whole fares even worse. As this region becomes one of the fastest-growing in the state, it is critical that we have an appropriate share of resources and advocacy for policies that match the needs of our communities.
Sacramento, however, has turned a deaf ear to San Bernardino County’s most basic needs. Policies adopted at the state level often appear to reflect the priorities and needs of the state’s major urban centers more than those of San Bernardino County and the rest of California.
This is most obvious in the area of public safety. The state’s emphasis on alternatives to incarceration without the necessary support to communities has created a violent crime wave in San Bernardino County. When illegal cannabis cultivation became a misdemeanor, illicit marijuana farms sprouted up in or around desert communities, degrading the quality of life for residents. A bill sponsored by San Bernardino County to toughen penalties was rejected by the Legislature.
During the pandemic lockdowns, many of San Bernardino County’s rural communities had lower COVID-19 case rates than Northern California counties that were assigned to less-restrictive tiers. When the county asked the state to allow our remote rural areas with orange-or-yellow-tier metrics to be subjected to only orange-or-yellow-tier restrictions, the state refused. Family businesses in those areas stayed closed, and county residents there remained isolated and unemployed.
The San Bernardino County Fair-Share Initiative is a constructive way for the people of America’s geographically largest county to be heard, not only by their local leaders, but by everyone in California and the nation.
Curt Hagman is the chair of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. Dawn Rowe is the vice chair of the board. The authors wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.