September 14, 2015

Last-minute frenzy includes bills on climate change, supervisors

Measures to help four cities and Corinthian College students are on the governor’s desk. But a bill to add county supervisors is in limbo.

BY JEFF HORSEMAN / The Press-Enterprise

In the end, Inland Assemblyman Jose Medina got what he wanted.

The Riverside Democrat wasn’t willing to support landmark Senate legislation to fight climate change unless it was stripped of a mandate to cut California’s use of petroleum in motor vehicles in half by 2030. He was worried the mandate would be especially painful in his district, where commuters use more gas to travel longer distances.

With great reluctance, Gov. Jerry Brown and top Democratic lawmakers agreed to remove the mandate to win over reluctant lawmakers like Medina, who was the subject of an intense lobbying campaign by the bill’s supporters and opponents.

Medina and another on-the-fence Inland lawmaker, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, were among Assembly Democrats who ultimately voted for SB 350, which requires 50 percent of California’s energy to come from renewable resources and a doubling of the energy efficiency in existing buildings, all by 2030.

SB 350 was just one bill with Inland implications caught up in the late-hour frenzy that marked the end of the California State Legislature’s session Friday, Sept. 11. Other bills, including measures that would expand Inland boards of supervisors and help four fledgling Riverside County cities, face uncertain fates.

Also unclear is how California will deal with a projected $59 billion backlog in transportation infrastructure needs and pay for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor. Special sessions on those topics are ongoing.

SB 350

Both sides made the case for why the bill, introduced by Senate leader Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, would help or hurt the Inland region.

Environmentalists said SB 350, which cleared the Senate in June, would clean the air in a region with some of the poorest air quality in America.

Critics, including the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, argued the bill was vague and would harm commuters. Residents in Riverside and San Bernardino counties are more likely than their neighbors to leave their counties for work.

Medina said he was concerned the petroleum mandate would hit his district -- Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris -- especially hard.

A companion bill, SB 32, originally introduced by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, would have required the state Air Resources Board to set new rules so that greenhouse gas emissions are 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below those levels by 2050. It passed the Senate but faltered in the Assembly, although it could come up when the Legislature convenes in January.

Brown and Democratic leaders “should have focused on more practical goals,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College.

The mandate to cut gasoline usage 50 percent “simply made no political or economic sense,” he said. “On the one hand, it would impose enormous costs on California drivers and the California economy. On the other hand, proponents could not show that this measure would actually bring down global temperatures. In other words, it was all pain and no gain.”

FOUR CITIES

Two options to help Riverside County’s newest cities -- Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Menifee and Wildomar -- are still alive and on the governor’s desk.

The first, SB 25, would restore vehicle license fee revenue to the four cities, all of which incorporated after 2007. State lawmakers diverted that money in 2011, a move that hit the cities especially hard, since newer cities relied on vehicle license fees to a greater degree than more established municipalities.

Brown has repeatedly vetoed similar legislation, saying it could hurt the state’s general fund. He has 30 days to sign or veto the bill -- it passed the Legislature with no opposition -- or it becomes law without his signature.

“What makes us confident it will be signed this time around is the state’s fiscal outlook is even stronger than it was last year,” Shrujal Joseph, a spokesman for Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, wrote in an email.

In May, the governor proposed helping the four cities by having the state reduce the amount of money the county owes Sacramento for Cal Fire services. The county would then forgive $24 million in debt owed to it by the four cities.

Brown’s plan was lumped into a bill that included some controversial measures related to the end of redevelopment. Nonetheless, as the session drew to a close, the budget trailer bill, SB 107, passed the Senate and made its way to the governor.

Roth has been involved with SB 107 as well. “Because the Department of Finance was so deeply involved in the negotiations and its language that Senator Roth was able to negotiate and have the governor include in the May budget revision, we are extremely confident it will be signed into law,” Joseph said.

MORE SUPES

A proposed constitutional amendment that would affect Inland county governments remains in limbo.

The amendment, offered by Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, would require counties with 2 million or more residents -- Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego -- to have seven-member boards of supervisors. Riverside and San Bernardino counties each have five supervisors.

Supporters said larger boards would improve representation and give minorities a better chance of getting elected. Critics, including the San Bernardino County board, said the amendment would interfere with local government.

The amendment failed to gain enough Senate votes to pass. But it could be brought up in January. If approved, the amendment would be placed on the ballot for voters’ approval.

The Legislature also passed bills, including one sponsored by Medina, that are intended to help former students of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges Inc., which went bankrupt this spring. The company had three campuses in San Bernardino County.

Assuming Brown signs them, the bills would restore Cal Grants eligibility to some ex-students with unfinished degrees and provide state income tax breaks to students whose loans were forgiven.


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