By Tim Hunt
Legislature debates spending tax windfallUploaded: Jun 11, 2015
It takes a real political insider with a commitment to dig down into the weeds to follow some of the machinations in Sacramento, Washington D.C. and with various regional agencies.
Consider how the use of California's cap-and-trade revenues (established by AB 32 to reduce greenhouse gases) has expanded. Next budget year, the governor has targeted $500 million for the absurdly expensive and totally unnecessary high-speed rail. It's also being targeted for affordable housing to reduce the commutes of poorer people.
There's another effort to tie the electricity used in the major water projects in California into the program.
The governor's proposed budget, which now is being debated in the Legislature with a deadline on Sunday (or pay for legislators is suspended), would spend $2.23 billion, while each chamber of the Legislature passed bills spending even more of the revenue.
Notably, the bill setting up cap-and-trade passed by a simple majority and it takes a two-thirds majority to pass a taxation bill. The Democrats do not hold super-majorities in either house and the question will be whether the leaders will ignore that two-thirds requirement and pass an extension of the greenhouse gas reduction goals and timeline.
The original bill is still being litigated by the state Chamber of Commerce and is pending in a state appellate court. If the chamber wins its simple argument that cap-and-trade is a tax?the state position is that it is something else?then the current practice of cap-and-trade could come to an end.
And then there's the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that parcels out transportation funding for the nine Bay Area counties?decisions are made by a board made up of elected representatives from the counties and cities. That structure immediately isolates these decision makers from their respective electorates. This is the outfit that was overseeing and ultimately responsible for the new $6.5 billion Bay Bridge. The original CalTrans estimate for construction was $1.5 billion.
In a recent newsletter from the Greenbelt Alliance, the non-profit noted that MTC had started a new program that "protects our natural and agricultural lands from sprawl development."
Two years ago, MTC commissioners established a "Priority Conservation Area" grant program and allocated $10 million to it. The alleged nexus is that protecting land will encourage people to live in or closer to urban centers and limit the need to spend on transportation.
This is a classic example of an agency that should be building roads, repairing them and investing in sensible transit opportunities allowing its mission to creep well beyond reasonable bounds.
Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty is a commissioner.