Proposed shift of Prop. 39 energy efficiency funds thwarts the will of California voters 

click to enlarge Tom Steyer was a backer of the original Prop. 39, which promised to fund a variety of energy projects; his nonprofit is opposed to the decision to use all of the funds for school projects. - AP FILE PHOTO
  • AP File Photo
  • Tom Steyer was a backer of the original Prop. 39, which promised to fund a variety of energy projects; his nonprofit is opposed to the decision to use all of the funds for school projects.

Raise your hand if you thought that half the proceeds from Proposition 39 would go to schools and nothing else.

And that the money would be distributed on a per-student basis, not based on energy savings.

I doubt many hands went up, but at a recent state Senate budget committee hearing we learned that this is precisely how the Brown administration proposes to spend the tax dollars that were meant to help fight global warming.

Proposition 39 passed with 61 percent of the vote and closed a loophole in the tax code that allowed out-of-state companies doing business in California to pay less in taxes than in-state companies. It’s estimated that it will bring in $1 billion per year for the first five years; half the proceeds were supposed to go into a newly created Clean Energy Job Creation Fund.

According to the voter guide, that fund would be for “energy efficiency projects at schools and other public buildings. … All projects shall be selected based on in-state job creation and energy benefits for each project type.”

But the governor’s budget gives every penny of the fund to schools, not “other public buildings,” and allocates it on a per-pupil basis.

This did not escape the attention of California’s legislative analyst.

“By dedicating all the energy-related funding over the five-year period only to school and community colleges and excluding other eligible projects that potentially could achieve a greater level of benefits,” a legislative analyst report on the budget stated, “the governor’s proposal very likely would not maximize state energy and job benefits.”

The report continued, “We believe that a more effective approach would be to first evaluate the relative energy savings and job benefits among all potential projects.”

Kate Gordon, vice president and director of advanced energy and sustainability programs at Next Generation, agrees. The nonprofit was founded by Prop. 39 sponsor Tom Steyer.

Michael Cohen, chief deputy director of the state Department of Finance, didn’t explain why schools, and not other public buildings, should get all the funding. But he did explain why the allocation will be done on a per-student basis, instead of the criteria spelled out in the law.

“The data is not going to be there to weigh everything you want to weigh correctly,” Cohen said.

But as state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who sits on the committee, pointed out, “We’ve spent over $10 billion on modernization and new construction of schools in the last decade. It seems to me that we know pretty much the number of schools that have done modernization or new construction.”

Cohen went on to say that, “Ultimately our determination was that every school district in the state, every community college, has significant energy efficiency needs, that this is an area that has historically been underfunded.”

Which might be a good justification for a per-pupil allocation if the money was supposed to be doled out based on “need.” But it was supposed to be distributed based on “in-state job creation and energy benefits.” And that sort of thing could be accomplished if the state made schools and districts write grant requests instead of proactively giving money to schools, which requires research that the Governor’s Office doesn’t feel like doing.

With this lazy, misguided proposal to grab Prop 39 funds, the real energy savings are in the Governor’s Office.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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Melissa Griffin

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