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Analyst, lawmaker fault Brown's clean energy spending plans

January 15, 2013 |  3:09 pm

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor (left) and Gov. Jerry Brown (right) discussing the state budget in the Capitol this month. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

When Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor rolled out his review of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal on Monday, some of his sharpest criticisms involved plans for new tax money generated by a change in corporate taxes.

The change, approved by voters in November as part of Proposition 39, sets aside about $500 million annually for clean energy projects for the next five years. Brown wants to spend the money on increasing energy efficiency at thousands of local schools and community colleges, distributing the funds based on the number of students in each district.

There's three major problems with the governor's plan, Taylor says. First, he says, the ballot measure requires the money to be spent on ways that maximize energy savings and job creation, and focusing solely on schools may not accomplish that.

"We believe a more effective approach would be to first evaluate the relative energy savings and job benefits among all potential projects," said a report from Taylor's office.

Second, various school districts have different needs -- some have newer buildings and require less maintenance, while others require extensive upgrading. The report says the governor's plan to distribute money based on student enrollment "does not link funding with potential benefits."

Lastly, the governor wants to use the clean energy money to satisfy the state's obligation to fund schools under Proposition 98. Taylor's report says that would be "directly contrary to what the voters were told" about Proposition 39 when they voted on the measure.

Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who originally proposed using clean energy money for schools, agreed with Taylor on some of his criticisms. He said Brown's plan to count the money as Proposition 98 funding is a form of "double dipping" that could set a bad precedent.

The senator also said it was wrong to distribute the money based on the number of students in each district. That "locks in the status quo" by treating poor and rich districts as if they have the same funding needs, he said.

However, de León defended the plan to focus on schools, an approach also backed by financier Tom Steyer, who bankrolled the Proposition 39 campaign. The senator said the proposal would create jobs and help schools cut energy costs. He said, “We can take those dollars and reinvest them back in the classroom, where they are really needed.”

The Brown administration is sticking by its proposal on Proposition 39.

"Our fundamental assumption in allocating these funds on a per-pupil basis is that every district can use these dollars in some way to reduce energy consumption or create greater efficiencies," said a statement from H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Brown's Department of Finance. "There isn’t a facility out there that can’t benefit in terms of energy efficiency from investment in this area."


Gov. Brown unveils budget, says state is in the black

Analyst concerned about rising spending and pension costs

California finances still face risk despite improvement, analyst says

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento

Photos: Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, left, and Gov. Jerry Brown discussing the state budget in the Capitol this month. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press