When Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to eliminate more than 400 local redevelopment agencies and redirect their property taxes into schools and other local governments, he ignited what is shaping up to be a very sharp political firefight.
The billions of dollars at stake are motivating the redevelopment industry to deploy heavy political artillery against the assault.
For years, critics have contended that redevelopment agencies skim billions of dollars in property taxes that would be better spent elsewhere while arrogantly seizing land from private owners, blithely shoveling money into developers’ pockets and often ignoring obligations to build low-income housing.
It was a purely theoretical debate until Brown made elimination of redevelopment agencies a significant piece of his 2011-12 budget plan.
City officials, who run most of the agencies, are crying foul, saying Brown is making an end run around Proposition 22, passed by voters just last November to bar the state from raiding local treasuries.
They and the California Redevelopment Association have ginned up a propaganda campaign, claiming redevelopment is unleavened wonderfulness — the latest manifestation being a “study” contending that its elimination would erase 300,000 jobs.
Brown’s allies, public employee unions primarily, are mounting their own political sales job to bolster Brown’s contention that redevelopment tax dollars would be better spent on schools and local services than on developer subsidies.
This week, state Controller John Chiang entered the battle with an announcement that his office would review 18 redevelopment agencies to see whether they are complying with state laws and to reveal how much officials are being paid.
“I believe it is important to provide factual, empirical information about how these agencies perform and what they bring to the communities they serve,” Chiang said.
Chiang’s report — especially the salary portion — will probably provide redevelopment critics with more political ammunition.
As the battle picks up momentum and the factions exchange barrages of self-serving propaganda, the only safe haven is a report by the Legislature’s budget analyst, Mac Taylor.
Taylor concludes there’s “no reliable evidence that redevelopment agencies improve overall economic development in California,” and redevelopment tends to “shift development from one location to another, but does not significantly increase economic activity statewide.”
That is pretty damning.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.