The California Legislature and the Governor recently passed the most devastating budget ever enacted during my lifetime. The budget will leave state residents less protected from illness, students less educated, and will widen the growing gap between rich and poor in California. The picture of the Big 5 smiling when they agreed in principle to the budget will forever be etched upon my mind. This is truly a budget that asks those least able to sacrifice — children, elderly and the poor — to sacrifice the most. Even though Californians will be sicker and dumber, at least there are no new taxes, right?
In the environmental community, we were all expected to jump for joy because there won’t be new oil drilling off our coast. I don’t mean to discount the hard-fought efforts of legislators to kill the Governor’s effort to “Drill, Baby, Drill.” But somehow, killing the PXP offshore oil drilling plan doesn’t make up for the rest of the devastation in the budget. Someone needs to explain to me why it would be OK to sell California’s coastal waters for $100 million a year, but the state couldn’t add an oil and gas extraction fee like nearly every other state in the country for California’s existing, producing wells.
An oil and gas extraction fee would have been a logical and desperately needed source of revenue to balance the budget on the backs of Big Oil and Gas rather than students, the poor and the elderly. Other logical sources of revenue include a vehicle registration fee tied to carbon emissions. If you drive a Hummer, then you should pay for the extra carbon emissions, while people that drive alternative fuels vehicles, PZEVs, or hybrid compact cars should pay less.
This program would replace the lost revenue from the vehicle registration fee, help California move more quickly to greenhouse gas emission goals, and provide an economic incentive to green our personal transportation choices. Of course a lifeline rate for low-income vehicle owners would provide relief for those that can’t afford green vehicle choices.
A final source of revenue should be reform of Proposition 218. Local government should be allowed to raise revenues for programs, especially when the state keeps poaching their funding. Change 218 to a 55% local vote so municipalities can raise fees for stormwater pollution and flood control (and libraries!). Enough of this anti-democracy two-thirds majority votes to improve local communities. Let’s return power to the people by moving to the majority-rules system of our forefathers.
Meanwhile, thanks to Arnold’s machete-like blue pencil, the California Conservation Corps suffered major cuts. So much for green jobs for at-risk youth. Because unemployment is at levels we haven’t seen in decades, people might seek to escape financial pressures by visiting our unparalleled state park system. That is, if their favorite parks survived the latest $14.2 million cut in the already eviscerated state parks budget. The Department of Finance has estimated that up to 100 parks could be closed due to the cuts.
Lastly, rather than dwell on the other environmental cuts to boards and commissions, I’d prefer to focus on the most critical environmental cut of all: the three-day-a-month furlough. State employees were rewarded for their willingness to accept a short-term furlough by receiving a furlough program for the coming year. Should be great for already damaged morale.
In addition, environmental agencies will be doing at least 15% less work because their employees are working 15% less days. The end result will be less environmental enforcement, near elimination of industrial and construction site inspection programs, less monitoring, delayed permits, and limited progress on critical policies. Considering the fact that environmental agencies like the State Water Board are already grossly underfunded, the cuts will render environmental agencies practically toothless until their funding can be restored. Not much of a deterrent for California’s polluters.
Some people believe that we can’t afford to protect the environment during the current economic crisis. Yet now is exactly the time to act. The cost of pollution cleanup already far exceeds the cost of prevention, so California can’t afford to further reduce environmental protection. We can’t wait for our kids to solve the climate crisis and clean up polluted air and water tomorrow just to save a few bucks today. Penny wise and pound foolish doesn’t begin to cover it.