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mactaylor.jpgState leaders have pushed the legal envelope trying to solve California's financial woes, and Gov. Jerry Brown's budget is no different even as the state heads toward firmer ground.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said Tuesday that Brown's budget proposal "raises serious legal concerns" in at least two instances where the governor wants to use fees to fund potentially unrelated programs. Ever since voters approved a business-backed initiative in 2010 more narrowly defining what fees can pay for - fee-based programs must directly affect the payer - state leaders have faced stricter limits in how they spend money.

The resources and environmental protection report says the governor wants to use $649,000 in new carbon emissions fees on businesses to pay for five state employees at the Department of Housing and Community Development. Those workers would review local government housing plans.

Brown's administration makes the case that because housing plans must now take into account regional transportation plans and attempt to increase housing density, the money serves a greenhouse-gas reduction purpose. But the analyst's office disagrees, saying "the Governor's proposal to allocate AB 32 fee funds for five additional positions at HCD for housing element review raises serious legal concerns."

In another instance, as The Bee reported earlier this month, the analyst's office calls into question Brown's proposal to use new fees on mostly rural residents to pay for a special investigative unit in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The law requires fire fees to be used for fire prevention. Brown officials say they have used fire-fee money for its Civil Cost Recovery Program the last two years because they believe penalizing fire starters serves as a deterrent against future fires. But the analyst's office says the program is not directly related to fire prevention and recommends that lawmakers either convert the fire fee to a tax or use general fund dollars to pay for civil cost recovery.

The analyst's office questions Brown's plan to use $1 million in state parks fee revenue to clean up Border Fields State Park on the Mexico border. State environmental restrictions mandate that California clean basins in the park that collect sediment and trash from Mexico, according to the analyst's office. But previous funding sources have dried up, and Brown now wants to use state parks money.

"Last year, the state parks system faced serious funding challenges and the Legislature had to consider options to prevent the closure of up to 70 state parks," the report states. "Since (the state parks fund) is one of the primary funding sources for park operations and maintenance, using these funds on an ongoing basis for clean-up activities (as proposed by the Governor) could put other parks in the system at risk of closure due to a lack of funding for operations."

PHOTO CREDIT: California Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua


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