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Legislative Last Call

January 29, 2002

Lobbying interests in Sacramento are hoping that bills they oppose will die a quiet death Thursday, the last day for action on measures introduced last year. There are two measures on which we especially hope the Legislature will rouse itself in time--one to reduce auto emissions and the other for fairer ways to pay for local government.

The Legislature's pass-or-die rule applies to the house in which a bill originated. So it is the state Assembly that needs to approve the two measures: AB 1058, a modest step toward control of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, and AB 680, to create an experimental redistribution of sales tax revenue in the Sacramento region. Both bills have triggered opposition out of proportion to their likely impacts.

AB 1058, by Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), directs the state Air Resources Board to adopt regulations on the emission of carbon dioxide from passenger cars, sport-utility vehicles and light trucks by 2004 and then to determine when they realistically could be put into effect. The state doesn't control carbon dioxide from exhaust pipes now because it is not considered an immediate threat to public health, though it is certainly a culprit in global warming. President Bush promised during his campaign to reduce industrial emissions of carbon dioxide but has now reneged.

Auto makers scoff that the bill fails to set specific standards and that California shouldn't meddle in a global problem. Setting standards, however, is the air board's job. And California accounts for an estimated 7% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. California should be the pioneer, as it was on smog reduction.

AB 680, by Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, would allow a slight reallocation of future sales tax revenue in a six-county region surrounding Sacramento, beginning several years from now. Instead of all the local government share of sales taxes staying in the county or city of origin, some of the new revenue would be distributed regionwide by population and some as a reward for sensible planning controls.

The present system grossly distorts city planning because local governments feel compelled to pursue "big box" stores and auto malls for the sales taxes they generate. Their neighbors are often left to suffer effects such as increased traffic. Steinberg's tiny pilot program would spread a little of the windfall a little more fairly. The system is so broken that this modest proposal could only help.

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