Understanding the complexities of the county-state fiscal relationship is difficult, even for seasoned county officials. For new county supervisors who have only been in office a couple of months, it can be downright mind boggling.

Attendees at this morning’s session of the CSAC New Supervisors Institute in Sacramento, though, were treated to a very informational and easy-to-understand explanation and historical perspective of state county-state fiscal relationship. That explanation was provided by Diane Cummins, one of the leading experts in this issue in California. Diane worked on state budget issues in the Capitol for more than 30 years before retiring. But she was recently called out of retirement to serve as the Governor’s point person on his proposal to shift program responsibility – and funding – from the state to California’s 58 counties.

This morning, she took time away from her busy schedule to walk across the street from the Capitol to the CSAC Conference Center to work with the new county supervisors.

In summing up the past 30 years, Cummins said the often-asked question is, “Why did we do what we did?”  And for the next 45 minutes, she answered that question. From the passage of Prop. 13 to the state’s current $28 billion deficit, Cummins provided the new supervisors with a rollercoaster fiscal and legislative ride covering the past 33 years. Decade by decade, she explained and put into context a litany of buzz words and terms that we often hear – realignment, ERAF, Prop. 172, trial court funding, mandates, VLF, Prop. 1A to name a few.

“You can see over the past 33 years what the debate is,” Cummins said, “The money keeps going around in circles, but we never solve the problem.”

The discussion brought supervisors up to current day, when Governor Brown has proposed a new program realignment as part of his solution to the state’s budget crisis.  She said that the governor “sees counties as a partner in solving this issue once and for all” and rectifying the fiscal dysfunction developed over the past three decades.

Yuba County Administrative Officer Robert Bendorf, who also participated in this morning’s panel, called Cummins’ talk “the most balanced presentation from the state I’ve seen in 10 years.” Bendorf was joined by Yolo County Administrative Officer Patrick Blacklock in providing the county perspective.

Diane Cummins regularly teaches a course on “Financing California Counties” through the CSAC Institute for Excellence in County Government. Her course is very popular and highly rated by the county staff and elected officials who have taken it. The Institute will be offering the course once again this fall.  It’s a course county newcomers and veterans can benefit from.

This second session of the New Supervisors Institute concludes tomorrow. The final session is scheduled for April 14 in Sacramento.

David Liebler is the Director of Public Affairs and Member Services for the California State Association of Counties.