Budget Subcommittees Take up Governor's Proposed "Polluter Pays" Fee Increases

By Loretta Macktal, Executive Assistant to the Vice President, Government Relations

Capitol Update, Jan. 17, 2003 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

As expected, the Governor's January budget proposal released last Friday contains notable fee increases for state air and water quality programs. Taken together, these proposals would relieve the General Fund of about $24 million dollars worth of program funding obligations. Once again, they are couched in terms of "polluter pays" rhetoric, and once again it appears likely that political expediency will control the debate rather than program accountability and fee equity.

This week, Assembly Budget Subcommittee #3 on Resources considered budget trailer bill language implementing a $10 million dollar increase (roughly 230%) in state air quality fees, actually voting on a motion to approve the language. This poorly noticed hearing was punctuated by a key substitution -- Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) replacing Assemblymember Joe Canciamilla (D-Pittsburg) -- and a decision to bar testimony, including that of local air district officials in attendance to raise concerns about proposed state fee increases on sources that are regulated at the local level. Not surprisingly, the California Air Resources Board, which was allowed to testify, supported the fee increase. CARB also recommended that the Legislature allow it to engage in a comprehensive rulemaking process to effectuate a broadening of the fee base (nominally capturing consumer products and architectural coatings) and possibly a lowering of the emission threshold that triggers the fee. Other than some inquiry from Republican members about the basis for the $10 million figure, there was virtually no deliberation on the proposal. In effect, this action has been taken with no consideration of efficiencies that might be gained through examining CARB's current program expenditures.

The Governor's budget also proposes a $13.6 million dollar shift from General Fund to fees to further backfill state water board programs. This proposal comes immediately on the heels of Legislative and regulatory action to shift about $15 million in costs to new fees for the 2002-03 fiscal year. This proposal is expected to be taken up by budget subcommittees in both houses within the month.
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