California Budget update

By Izzy Martin, The Sierra Fund

The California State Senate and Assembly Natural Resource Budget Subcommittees have been meeting over the last month, struggling with a budget deficit so large that cuts seem inevitable.  The Governor and the legislature have a number of budget proposals that we are watching:

Sierra Nevada Conservancy:  The Governor proposed full funding of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, using designated environmental funds not involved in the general fund budget debate for administration expenses, as well as authorizing $17 million from the Proposition 84 bond for grant programs in 2008/09. This budget item has received a positive recommendation from both budget sub-committees and will likely move as part of the “consent” agenda through the rest of the process.

Watershed Coordinator Grant Program:  Through the Watershed Coordinator Grant program funding is provided to 48 watershed coordinator positions in local Resource Conservation Districts (RCD). The Governor’s Budget proposes $8 million in Proposition 50 bond funds for local assistance over three years. In addition, the Governor’s budget proposes $10 million from Proposition 84 bonds over five years to allow the Department of Conservation to expand the Watershed Coordinator Grant Program statewide. Expanding the program would allow applications from watersheds outside the CALFED area, such as the Lake Tahoe Basin, the eastern Sierra and the Klamath River. This proposal has received a favorable review from Senate Budget subcommittee staff and members.

Department of Fish and Game – Suction Dredge Program:   As detailed in The Sierra Fund’s recent report Mining’s Toxic Legacy, gold miners use suction dredges to vacuum creek and river bottoms, often disturbing the elemental mercury left behind by legacy gold mining. This practice is regulated under permits issued by the Department of Fish and Game, however, the California courts have found that the program is out of date and requires environmental review.  The Governor’s budget has proposed $1.5 million over two years to prepare this review.  The Senate and Assembly Budget Subcommittees have both given this proposal a favorable review, but have raised the issue of ceasing issuance of dredging permits until the program has been reviewed and any needed environmental protections put in place.

Department of Parks:  The Governor’s budget proposed serious cuts to the Parks Department.  As we reported earlier this year, the budget takes $8.883 million and 117.8 positions from the field units of the state park system. This reduction will close 48 state parks of the 278 existing parks and reduce seasonal lifeguards at state beaches in Orange, San Diego and Santa Cruz Counties by a minimum of 50 percent.  It cuts $4.439 million and 11.4 positions from the administrative and managerial support functions of the department.  Though this issue has not yet been before either Budget subcommittee, there is widespread support for finding funding to keep the parks open.

Sierra state parks slated for closure include Malakoff Diggins in Nevada County, Plumas Eureka in Plumas County, and Wasssama Roundhouse in Madera County.  For a complete map of the parks proposed for closure, click here.