Governor's Blue Pencil Strikes At Climate Change Efforts

 

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s last-minute decision to eliminate Williamson Act subventions is another example of how the state’s spending decisions run counter to its greenhouse gas emissions-reduction goals.

I know, the budget signed on Tuesday does not match many of the state’s alleged policy goals. But I find the continual undercutting of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions policy to be particularly galling because the governor and other state leaders have been so quick to take credit for being climate change warriors.

In case you haven’t heard, the governor “blue penciled” all but $1,000 of Williamson Act subventions because he said the state needs the money for a reserve fund. The Williamson Act provides tax breaks to agricultural landowners who sign 10-year contracts (renewed annually) not to develop their property. The program reduces county property tax revenues by about $35 million to $38 million annually, but the state has always backfilled that money as a way of promoting the Williamson Act program.

With about 17 million acres enrolled, the 44-year-old Williamson Act amounts to the state’s biggest anti-sprawl program. Urban sprawl, of course, causes people to drive more and, therefore, produce more GHGs. Considering the AB 32 goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, you’d think the state would do all it could to block sprawl. You know, things like provide incentives to rural landowners not to subdivide their pastures. State lawmakers were willing to fund subventions at 80%, or about $28 million, but the governor said he needs to hang onto the money for the next emergency.

Will the Williamson Act survive? It’s hard to predict, but it’s easy to see that no level of government is more fiscally strapped than counties. Would it surprise anyone if counties started canceling Williamson Act contracts?

The Williamson Act funding cut is hardly the only example of the state’s counterproductive budget in the area of climate change. The spending plan also eliminates state support for transit operations, and it slashes $2 billion from redevelopment, which sure seems like something climate change warriors would want to support. (I should note that the budget does not include $100 million in royalties from new offshore oil drilling leases, as state lawmakers refused to approve the governor’s drilling proposal.)

Is anyone happy with this budget? It appears not. Even Republican lawmakers who got everything they wanted on potential tax increases concede the budget is no victory.

- Paul Shigley