Last week Governor Jerry Brown released his budget for 2013-4. California faced stiff budget cuts in recent years as the state grappled with multi-billion dollar deficits in a recession racked economy. With the voters’ approval of Proposition 30, which raises sales tax and income tax on high-income earners, along with the Governor’s proposed cuts to prisons and state courts, Governor Brown says he has delivered the first balanced budget proposal in years. We looked at the budget’s impacts as they relate to our sustainable agriculture and climate change priorities:
Cap-and-trade revenue investments for sustainable agriculture: The state will generate revenue from the auctioning of allowances (aka permits to emit greenhouse gas emissions) under the new cap-and-trade program. Auctions will be held quarterly. The funds will be invested in activities that further the state’s climate change goals by investing in activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CalCAN and our allies have advocated that a portion of the cap-and-trade funds should go towards sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change, including funding for agricultural research, farmland conservation, grower technical assistance and financial incentives for farming systems that provide climate and other environmental benefits. The Governor’s budget states that sustainable agriculture will be considered in the planning process for the cap-and-trade investment plan, due out in May. The inclusion of sustainable agriculture as a possible investment category is an important step forward, and we will continue to advocate for inclusion in the final investment plan.
Farmland conservation: Unfortunately, the Governor’s budget does little for farmland conservation. Like previous years, the budget eliminates state funding for Williamson Act subvention payments. Local government will have to continue to go it alone on the Williamson Act program, which gives landowners a break on their property taxes if they agree to a minimum 10-year contract to keep their land in agriculture or open space. Without state funding, we may have more counties limiting new sign-ups to the program or beginning to cancel Williamson act contracts. The budget also eliminates funding for the California Farmland Conservancy Program, which funded the purchase of conservation easements on agricultural land. Funding is increased for the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, which provides important data on the status of farmland in the state. But without tools to protect farmland, and with new development pressures especially from large infrastructure projects, the Governor’s budget leaves farmland conservation in the dust.
Energy efficiency, renewable energy for agriculture: The Governor’s budget provides over $190 million for EPIC (Electricity Program Investment Charge Program) to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy research and development. The Governor’s leadership made the EPIC program possible to help California continue to advance in energy efficiency and the production of distributed renewable energy generation, but the devil is the details. How EPIC funds will be delivered will be determined this year as the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission finalize their plan for the program funds. CalCAN will continue to advocate for access to these programs for small and mid-scale producers to implement on-farm renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.
California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA): The Governor’s budget ends several years of budget cuts to CDFA and increases the general fund allocation to the department to $61.9 million from $60.3 million. Previous cuts eliminated funding for CDFA’s biological control program and other programs. Details are still forthcoming on how the Governor’s proposed budget will shake out for biological control and other sustainable agriculture priority initiatives at the department.