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Lobbyists Fight to Keep Funds for Smog Check II

June 05, 1998|Capitol Alert News Service

Some of the state's top business lobbyists are fighting to preserve the controversial Smog Check II program after lawmakers shaping next year's state budget proposed to strip its funding.

Worried that any efforts to ease up on air pollution from cars and trucks will lead to more drastic emissions restrictions on businesses--ranging from bakeries to refineries to printing plants and equipment rental shops--the California Chamber of Commerce has mounted a drive to persuade members of a key legislative budget committee to restore funding to the state's Bureau of Automotive Repair, the agency charged with carrying out the program.

Smog Check II is the state's response to meet federal air quality standards and, ultimately, to achieve federal ozone standards in the most polluted areas of California by 2010. In most of the state's urban centers, cars undergoing their biennial smog check will be required to "work out" on a treadmill-like device called a dynamometer that more rigorously tests emissions.

But the start of the program has been delayed three times, and while it is finally due to begin Monday, lawmakers have thrown the issue into legislative limbo. In April, lawmakers took aim at the $150 million originally budgeted for the bureau. A Senate subcommittee cut all but $25 million of the bureau's funding. An Assembly subcommittee, meanwhile, stripped all but $2,000, leaving the entire matter to be resolved in budget discussions heating up this week.

The state's service station and repair shop owners have made a collective $200-million investment in the new "dyno" equipment, according to the 1,200-member California Service Station & Automotive Repair Assn.

But Smog Check II is a troubled program unpopular with constituents and in need of an overhaul, lawmakers say. As their latest proof, Republicans and Democrats both point to a legislative analyst's budget report released early this year that was critical of the Bureau of Automotive Repair's management of the program.

Those concerns led to the decisions last April by both the Senate and Assembly budget subcommittees to de-fund the bureau and send the program back into budget negotiations.

"Nothing leads us to believe it won't be re-funded," said Bob Brown, spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which houses the automotive repair bureau.

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