The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office has so many complaints with Gov. Jerry Brown's plan for spending new clean energy money that it produced a separate 12-page pamphlet today to detail the problems.
Thanks to voter-approved Proposition 39, the state has $450 million to $550 million annually to spend on energy efficiency projects over the next five years. Brown proposed in his budget to devote all of that money to retrofitting K-12 schools and community colleges. The initiative did not specify that funds go toward education.
The money comes from a $1 billion annual tax increase that affects out-of-state corporations doing business in California.
The analyst's office found "many serious concerns" with Brown's plan from both a legal and economic perspective.
Legally, the analyst's office says the governor's plan invites manipulation of the state constitutional guarantee by counting the funds toward school operating budgets. The analyst's office says that approach marks "a serious departure" from how it interprets the state constitution, a view that the office says it "developed over many years with guidance from Legislative Counsel." Additionally, the analyst's office says it departs from what voters were told last year.
Brown's Department of Finance disagrees. It says that because the money is paid by corporations into the state general fund, schools have a claim on it.
"In our view it is not a gray area," Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said.
Economically, the analyst's office suggests that devoting all money to school projects may not be the best use of money. It notes that other public buildings are bigger energy hogs, such as hospitals that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The LAO also points out that Brown's plan provides money for schools on a per-student basis. Though that may be politically palatable, upgrading buildings in areas of extreme climate (desert areas in the spring and summer or Truckee in the winter) would get more energy efficiency for the buck.
On top of that, the analyst's office says Brown's plan does not coordinate with existing state energy agencies, ignores recent bond-funded upgrades of K-14 buildings, requires no return on investment analysis and results in small districts receiving paltry sums that may serve no benefit.
"Our proposal reflects the fact that education continues to be the top priority of the governor's budget," Palmer said. He added that past budget cuts "took their toll not only on classroom instruction dollars but physical upkeep as well."
The analyst's office instead recommends that lawmakers separate Proposition 39 money from school operating budgets. It suggests making the California Energy Commission the lead agency to distribute funds, using a competitive process that awards grants to all public agencies based on energy benefits and require that applicants conduct an energy audit in advance.
PHOTO CREDIT: Will Rogers Middle School Principal, Gabriel Cooper, center, stands and applauds as Glynn Thompson, Interim Superintendent for San Juan Unified, right, speaks at the podium during an unveiling of the Solar Sunflower project at Will Rogers school, a learning device donated by SMUD. Bee file photo / Lezlie Sterling