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Gov. Jerry Brown's school energy plan gets harsh hearing

April 04, 2013|By Chris Megerian
  • Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) joins Tom Steyer, right, who bankrolled the campaign for Proposition 39, at a Sacramento event promoting the ballot initiative on Dec. 4, 2012.
Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) joins Tom Steyer, right, who… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO -- Lawmakers strongly criticized Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to use some new tax money to improve schools' energy efficiency, raising questions about whether the proposal will survive this year's budget negotiations.

Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said the Brown administration should “go back to the well and recalibrate this" because “I don’t believe this is going to pass.”

The new revenue comes from Proposition 39, which is expected to generate $1 billion annually by changing the corporate tax code. Half of the money is earmarked for clean-energy initiatives, and Brown wants to spend it on increasing energy efficiency at local schools and community colleges.

Under the governor's plan, the money would be distributed to school districts based on enrollment. De León, who supported Proposition 39, said that's the wrong approach because the funding won't go to the schools that need it the most. 

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, which provides budget advice to lawmakers, has also criticized Brown's proposal in a series of reports. The office has suggested that a competitive grant process is the best way to maximize energy savings.

Other lawmakers at the joint hearing of two Senate budget subcommittees -- one that handles education and the other that handles environmental issues -- said the governor's plan wasn't broad enough, and raised questions about why it couldn't also be used for job training or projects at other public buildings like state universities.

“I’m not going to vote for anything that looks like this," said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) during Thursday's hearing. “I think it’s way too simplistic and doesn’t reflect anything about the spirit of what this initiative was.”

Ian Johnson of Brown's Department of Finance defended the governor's proposal. He said it was best to focus the money on schools, which suffered cost-cutting during the recession, instead of spreading the money around to job training and other programs.

“It would be great if we could provide a significant level of funding for all of those causes," he said. But “it becomes difficult to do something meaningful in all of those areas.”

The joint subcommittee did not vote after Thursday's hearing. Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), a co-chair, said members hoped Brown would revise his plan when he releases his updated budget proposal next month.

An earlier version of this post mispelled the name of Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson. It has been corrected.

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Twitter: @chrismegerian

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