How Environmental Protection Fares in Governor’s Budget

Last week, due to a technical glitch, the Brown Administration unintentionally released the Governor’s proposed budget a few days earlier than expected. Through $10.3 billion in cuts and increased revenues, the proposed budget would close a $9.2 billion deficit, compared to last year’s $26 billion gap, and build a $1.1 billion reserve. The most severe cuts will be inflicted on CalWORKs, Medi-Cal, child care, and the Cal Grant Program. The budget is contingent on voters approving a temporary increase in the sales tax and a higher levy on wealthy residents. If voters reject the ballot initiative in November, the state would be forced to cut another $4.8 billion from schools and community colleges; a cut equivalent to 3 weeks of instruction. ‘Trigger cuts’, as they’re called, would also strip funds from courts, public safety officers and flood protection.

So how did the environment fare in the proposed budget? Overall, environmental protection did better than many other programs, though there are significant cuts to key programs, and much of the funding that has been allocated is for projects that are controversial even within the environmental community. The Department of Parks and Recreation will see $22 million in cuts, twice the reduction from last year’s budget, which would result in the closure of up to 70 state parks. Additionally, if the Governor’s tax initiative does not pass, it will trigger the elimination of all seasonal lifeguards on state beaches and a 20% reduction of the Park Rangers workforce.

Programs that will see more funding in 2012 include highly contentious projects, like California High Speed Rail and the Delta conveyance program. The budget allocates $15.9 million to usher along the development of a high speed rail system, which is under increasing scrutiny due to governance, routing and financing issues. The budget would also allocate more funding to the Department of Water Resources for its work on the highly controversial Bay-Delta conveyance research and planning processes; specifically, for 135 positions for preliminary engineering work to support the Delta Habitat Conservation and Conveyance Program.

The budget also earmarks $1 billion that are to be received by auctioning pollution credits to California companies to be used to “create jobs and deliver public health, economic and environmental benefits” as part of the state’s effort to curb global warming. Businesses have complained that this cap-and-trade program, a critical piece of California’s landmark legislation aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, represents an unfair tax. Cap-and-trade is also controversial among the environmental and environmental justice communities, some of whom believe it merely commoditizes dangerous pollution rather than directly and more aggressively curbing it.

The governor’s proposal still needs to be debated by the Legislature, and the Brown Administration will release an updated version in May. The deadline to have a budget passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor is June 30.