Weekly Legislative Review


Friday, May 19, 2012

On Monday, May 14th, the Governor released his May Revision of the 2012-13 proposed State Budget. It provides $16.7 billion in solutions to address a $15.7 billion General Fund (GF) deficit. The proposal results in a final reserve of $1 billion. The deficit number increased by $6.5 billion since the January budget proposal was released. The major components of that net increase include:

*$4.3 billion Less Revenue
*$1.2 billion Proposition 98 Base Increase
*$1.2 billion Proposition 98 Backfill of Property Tax
*$1.7 billion Increased Expenditures

*-$1.9 billion Expenditure Savings

When this $6.5 billion in additional budgetary problems are added to the January $9.2 billion budget problem, the additional problem yields a revised $15.7 billion budget gap.

The May Revision proposes $4.09 billion in additional expenditure reductions, approximately 50 percent higher than proposed in January, for total reductions of $8.3 billion. The revised spending plan continues to presume passage of the governor’s new tax initiative in November and revises the revenue estimate up $1.2 billion to $5.6 billion. The initiative would also provide $2.9 billion in revenue for Proposition 98 purposes.

The May Revision also proposes to increase the size of the proposed "Ballot Trigger Reductions" by $686.8 million to $6.1 billion with the vast majority of the cuts coming from K-14 education funding ($5.5 billion), and UC and CSU funding ($250 million each). These additional cuts, plus $83.2 million more, would only take effect if the governor’s tax initiative fails in November.

Additionally, the Governor followed through on his January budget commitment to improve California’s  Timber Harvest Plan (THP) process in the May Revise. The reform package includes four pieces aimed at improving the health of both California’s forests and its forest products industry. The first piece aims to improve the regulatory process for approving THPs by streamlining THP permit processing times, expanding the Redding Pilot process that brings all the regulatory agencies together to review the proposed THP site simultaneously and improving the THP application process. The proposal also eliminates all current THP fees and instead funds the regulatory process through a new assessment on raw wood products sold in California. This assessment would be capped at 1 percent of the value of retail sales of raw wood products.

The proposal also includes an extension of the length of THPs to five years with the option of one two-year extension. Finally, the package includes a change to California’s law governing wildlife liability to limit damages against private landowners. The US Forest Service has claimed significant damages against forest landowners when fires that were started on private land destroyed USFS lands. In the 2007 Moonlight fire, USFS claimed $791 million in damages. The proposal would limit the scope of damages public agencies are able to claim for fire cases and prohibit excessive damages. Farm Bureau expressed support for this entire proposal when it was heard by the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation. The new lumber assessment will require a two-thirds vote and Farm Bureau will be working to garner the necessary support for its passage.

With regard to the general fund budget for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA),  the governor’s revised budget proposes trimming the CDFA budget by an additional $2.5 million for FY 2012-13. This is in addition to the $31 million in general fund cuts approved previously by the legislature for the current fiscal year and the coming fiscal year. Prior to these funding reductions, CDFA was receiving approximately $99 million in general fund monies. These proposed “unallocated” cuts allow the agency to decide what programs should be eliminated or reduced. This was also the case with the initial $31 million in reductions and the agricultural industry was allowed the opportunity to make specific recommendations on how those cuts would be allocated between the various general fund programs. The department has indicated that input would be sought on the new round of reductions. The governor’s revised budget now goes to the legislature for their consideration and action.

An effort to allow the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research to prepare amendments to the guidelines for city and county general plans to include ways of increasing access to healthy affordable  food was approved on a partisan vote. The Assembly Appropriations Committee passed AB 1897 (Nora Compos, D-San Jose) on a 12 to 5 vote, with the Republicans voting “NO. This advice may include information on how a city or county might provide greater access to full and discount grocery stores, urban farming opportunities, community or school gardens, or farmers’ markets. The bill is also permissive as to how local jurisdictions implement the guidelines, meaning there is no mandate to do anything. The author even agreed to remove the findings and declarations in section one of the bill and all of the opposition went neutral except the California Chamber of Commerce. Farm Bureau supports AB 1897.

AB 2179 (Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa) would dramatically expand the Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) ability to issue civil penalties against individuals believed to be in violation of any provision of the Fish and Game Code. Currently DFG has the authority to issue civil penalties of up to $10,000 to individuals believed to be in violation of certain crimes against plants and wildlife; all other violations must be taken to court before penalties can be assessed. This bill would increase the penalties to $20,000 and allow DFG to issue them against anyone they believe to be in violation of its code. Farm Bureau has significant concerns with giving DFG this authority because it eliminates due process for numerous violations. Despite Farm Bureau’s opposition, the bill passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a party line vote of 12-5. The bill now goes to the Assembly Floor.

The Golden State Retirement Savings Trust, a government-run pension fund for private employees who do not have access to employer-provided pensions was put on the Senate Appropriations Committee suspense file. SB 1234 (Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles) would require employers with five or more employees to be enrolled in a “personal pension program” to be run by a state board, similar to pension systems for state workers and school teachers. De Leon has previously offered unsuccessful legislation to allow CalPERS to be used by private-sector employers. SB 1234 had attracted broad opposition from employer associations, including Farm Bureau.

Adding the extremely broad classification “family caregiver” to the types of personal characteristics that an  employee can claim related discrimination was another suspense file candidate this week. The Assembly Appropriation Committee will decide at a later date if AB 1999 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica) is worth the money it will cost the state to implement and thus release it from the suspense file. Farm Bureau and a large coalition of employer associations have opposed AB 1999, given the already generous employment discrimination protection afforded by California law.

The UC Davis Center for Watershed Science held the second of two outreach workshops this week on the nitrates in groundwater study they conducted for the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). SBx2 1 (Don Perata, D-Oakland) that became law in 2008, requires the SWRCB, in consultation with other agencies, to develop nitrate assessment pilot projects in the Tulare Lake Basin and the Salinas Valley. These two areas represent more than 40 percent of the irrigated farmland and half of the dairy herd in California. The bill directed the SWRCB to create an interagency task force as needed, to oversee the pilot projects to study nitrate contamination, d identify remedial solutions and funding options to recover costs associated with cleanup or treatment of groundwater and to report to the Legislature within two years. This week’s public outreach workshop for local stakeholders in the Salinas Valley was held at the University of California Cooperative Extension Office in Salinas with approximately 50 in attendance. The workshop included an overview of the study findings, a panel discussion, and a question and answer session to help get information out before a SWRCB public workshop next week, May 23rd at 9:00 a.m. at the Joe Serna, Jr. Cal/EPA Headquarters Building, Byron Sher Auditorium in Sacramento.

The following have been invited to participate in next week's workshop:

  1. State Water Board Members
  2. Charles R. Hoppin, Chairman
  3. Frances Spivy-Weber, Vice Chair
  4. Tam Doduc, Member
  5. California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary, Karen Ross
  6. California Department of Public Health Chief Deputy Director for Policy and Programs, Kathleen Billingsley
  7. Central Coast Regional Water Board Member, Dr. Monica Hunter
  8. Central Valley Regional Water Board Member, Dr. Karl Longley

Following introductory remarks the morning session will begin with a 20 minute overview of the U.C. Davis Study by Dr. Thomas Harter, followed by three panel discussions presenting 1) an agency perspective, 2) agriculture’s perspective and 3) an environmental justice perspective.
Afterwards there will be an opportunity for public comment. No formal action will be taken at the workshop by the Board. Public input at the workshop will be used to inform the State Water Board in developing its recommendations for its Report to the Legislature, as required by SBx2 1, later in 2012. For more information go to the SWRCB website at:
http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/water issues/programs/nitrate project/index.shtml

Farm Bureau continues to actively monitor this effort closely and is working with other agricultural stakeholders in responding to the UCD report.

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Biological Objectives Scientific Advisory Group  will meet in Orange County next week to review the recommendations from last month’s Scientific Advisory Group meeting and to further discuss anti-degradation implementation proposals. The SWRCB continues to work towards developing a policy that may establish statewide water quality objectives to protect high quality water streams, establish a baseline to maintain current water quality in more impacted streams, as well as identify impaired streams and causes of impairment. Farm Bureau continues to monitor this effort, attend meetings as necessary, including next week’s meeting, and identify areas of concern throughout the process.