Maybe it would be more fitting if Tom Berryhill ran for supervisor in Fresno County instead of Stanislaus.
Because when it came time to stand up for Stanislaus County – where his family has established a well-deserved reputation for public service – Berryhill wouldn’t do it. Politically, he turned his back. Why, we’re wondering, would he expect Stanislaus voters to put him in a new position of public trust now?
Berryhill announced last week he will run to replace Dick Monteith on the Stanislaus Board of Supervisors. His statement read, “We must get our fair share of the tax dollars we send to Sacramento so we (can) increase county public safety resources and adequately fund traffic relief projects.” That took some nerve.
When he had a real opportunity to make certain Stanislaus County residents got their fair share of tax dollars, he turned his back on the county.
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Berryhill has done some good things in the legislature and it’s far too soon to endorse candidates for a June primary, but it’s not too soon to remind voters of 2015. That’s when Stanislaus County was struggling to get rid of a law that had unfairly cost county taxpayers millions of dollars since 1981.
Those charges began in the wake of Proposition 13, which lowered property tax rates statewide but left most property-tax dependent California counties on the verge of insolvency. The state passed a law to bail them out, but not all counties needed bailing out. Under the state’s complex formula, those counties were forced to give up property tax revenues each year to help the others – creating the infamous negative bailout.
Stanislaus was one of six counties that had to pay, and continue paying for 35 years. Stanislaus’s total hit $72 million, money that could have paid for “public safety resources” or funded “traffic relief projects,” which is why Supervisor Ray Simon, Sen. Dave Cogdill Sr. and others famously fought this unfair charge for years.
In 2015, the negative bailout was set to cost Stanislaus another $3.4 million. But now it was Supervisor Vito Chiesa’s turn to fight it, and he found an ally in Gov. Jerry Brown. Naturally, there was a price.
Brown tied ending negative bailout to something he wanted – lowering interest rates on city redevelopment agency loans to 3 percent. Redevelopment agencies were created by cities to fund improvements, and a lot of cities – like Fresno – loaned their agencies money at very high rates. Lowering those rates would save the state money, but hurt the cities.
Standing with Brown and Chiesa were four of the five legislators representing Stanislaus County – Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) and Cathleen Galgiani (D-Manteca) in the senate and Kristin Olsen (R-Riverbank) and Adam Gray (D-Merced) in the assembly.
Berryhill, though, remained silent. His 8th Senate District stretches from Rancho Cordova to Death Valley and includes about half of Stanislaus County and most of the city of Fresno. A vote to help Stanislaus would hurt Fresno and vice versa. On the last day of a special session, as the vote neared, Chiesa et al implored Berryhill to step up. In a purely political calculation, he abstained; in effect, he chose his Fresno constituents over those in Stanislaus.
Fortunately, our other legislators pushed the bill across the finish line – just barely.
Now Berryhill says he would have voted “yes” if his vote had been needed. That’s like raising your fists after the bully has gone around the corner, and telling your buddy with a bloody nose, “I was just waiting to see if you needed any help.”
Tom Berryhill was worried about his political future when he refused to stand up for Stanislaus County. In June, residents shouldn’t forget his political past.