The Best Argument to Support Prop 70 Won’t be Made

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Here’s something that the California Democratic Party and California Republican Party agree on—they oppose Proposition 70 on the June ballot. Prop 70 was part of the compromise engineered by Gov. Jerry Brown and then Republican assembly leader Chad Mayes to extend the cap-and-trade law to 2030.

The deal cost Mayes his leadership position.

The deal made the cap-and trade extension bipartisan by securing Republican votes. As part of the deal a measure would be placed on the primary ballot requiring a check on spending from cap-and-trade in the year 2024 by mandating a two-thirds vote of the legislature on cap and trade spending matters. But, that would only happen if Prop 70 passes.

California’s cap-and-trade law requires industries to receive permits for emitting greenhouse gases. The permits can be acquired at auction with revenue dedicated to a fund to fight climate change. This year the expected revenue from the auction is in the range of $3 billion.

Gov. Brown wanted to extend the cap-and-trade law to 2030 and he desired a two-thirds vote since the revenue-raising device might be declared a tax, which requires a two-thirds vote under California law.

Brown wanted and needed Republicans to support the extension. Mayes and other Republicans were concerned that if the cap-and-trade plan failed in the legislature the California Air Resources Board would implement by executive fiat regulations that would jack up costs for both citizens and industry.

In hopes of managing the situation, a number of Republicans voted for the extension with one piece of the compromise that Republicans would have an opportunity to control the spending under the provisions of Proposition 70’s two-thirds vote requirement—assuming the Republicans hold more than one-third of the legislative seats six years from now.

Many Republican Party activists declared the compromise a bad deal, which led to the convention turning thumbs down on an endorsement. They consider cap-and-trade a tax that Republicans helped approve, and think the whole deal is ineffectual with its plan to re-consider funding priorities so far in the future.

The Democratic Party doesn’t like it because they oppose the two-thirds vote interfering with their spending plans.

Ironically, one of the strongest arguments that might be used in favor of the measure is that it could be a check on the high-speed rail. But that is an argument that won’t be used so as not to offend Gov. Brown.

Cap-and trade funds are propping up the bullet train funding. High-speed rail received about $730 million this year from cap-and-trade funds.

The high-speed rail is Gov. Jerry Brown’s pet project, which makes one of the arguments in the state’s Official Voter Information Guide indeed ironic. It states in capitol letters: PROPOSITION 70 HELPS ENSURE THAT MONEY FOR PRIORITY PROGRAMS IS NOT DIVERTED BY POLITICIANS FOR PET PROJECTS.

One of the signers of the argument is Governor Jerry Brown. Of course, for Brown, the bullet train is a “priority program.” But it is also his “pet project.”

Given the criticism the bullet train received on many fronts highlighting potential controls on the train’s funding could be an important argument in support of Prop 70. Having an opportunity to check the funding by requiring a two-thirds vote on how the cap-and-trade money is spent could chill the high-speed rail project. Some might argue the building of the train will be well along by 2024. However, with all the delays the project has experienced who knows where it will be at that time.

But because its Brown’s baby, because Brown engineered the deal to get Republican votes to extend cap-and-trade and accepted Prop 70 as part of the deal, and now puts his name behind the ballot measure, there is no mention of the train in the ballot booklet.

A powerful argument is ignored.

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