Paul McIntosh is the Executive Director of the California State Association of Counties. For more, visit The County Voice.

Given the magnitude of the state’s persistent budget deficit, is it time to think about potential opportunities for restructuring the county-state relationship? At least one of the legislative leaders thinks so, and CSAC leadership has directed staff to begin conversations about a realignment/restructuring of programs and services from a county perspective.

The notion of broad restructuring of programmatic and fiscal responsibility presents a potential opportunity for stabilized funding for important health and safety programs, creating efficiencies and flexibility in program delivery at the local level, and securing additional revenues to fund such activities. Restructuring program and service delivery could be the starting point for restoring California’s social infrastructure and investing in a system of care that focuses on healthy and safe communities.

To vet potential approaches, gauge the program areas best suited for realignment, and organize county input into this process, CSAC has recently established a 2010 Realignment Working Group, chaired by Supervisors Helen Thomson of Yolo County and Greg Cox of San Diego County. An organizing conference call is scheduled for this afternoon to establish structure, membership, and tasks of the working group. It is anticipated that the group will have a very broad and active representation from county supervisors, county administrators, department heads, practitioners, and affiliate members to provide input as this process moves forward. While the specific outline of a realignment proposal from the legislative perspective has yet to be defined, counties have been asked to think broadly and creatively in putting our own ideas on the table.

CSAC staff has developed a briefing paper, which gives a short history of program realignment, outlines the lessons counties have learned, and describes the potential for new efforts to realign programs and services in 2010. CSAC also will draw from existing “realignment principles,” developed initially in 2003 following then-Governor Davis’ proposal to realign a variety of programs to counties; these principles were further modified by CSAC’s Board of Directors in 2005, following the passage of Proposition 1A the previous year. The principles address issues related to revenue adequacy, statewide application, revenue neutrality, mandate reimbursement, local control and flexibility and federal maintenance of effort requirements.

Counties’ active and direct engagement in crafting a realignment proposal that is operationally feasible and fiscally sound is imperative if this effort is to be successful. We will provide updates to our membership as this effort moves forward during what may be a long summer of budget negotiations.

For more, visit The County Voice, a place where CSAC, county officials and stakeholders can voice their thoughts on governance and issues that impact California’s 58 counties.