During the Great Recession, the impacts of California's budget problems have fallen disproportionately on historically disadvantaged and low-income communities. To grapple with annual multi-billion dollar deficits the state has made a lot of tough decisions to cut social services, health programs, and education. For communities already struggling with poverty, pollution, and lack of opportunity these measures have been especially tough. Yesterday's budget agreement between the Governor and the Legislature was clearly and rightly targeted on addressing many of the education and healthcare needs of these communities.
Unfortunately, it missed the mark in one critical area: climate change.
Tomorrow, the Legislature will vote on – and likely approve – a budget that includes the Governor's proposal to make a one-time loan of the first $500 million in cap-and-trade auction revenues to the General Fund. We disagree with this decision. However, we are encouraged by the Governor's stated commitment to use these funds to invest in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit our communities.
A significant portion of the $500 million should have been invested this year, especially in low-income communities in California that already suffer from a wide range of negative environmental and social impacts. These include air and water pollution, physical isolation, lack of access to education, healthcare, and employment, and numerous other factors.
These communities may be near ports and refineries, caught between freeways and major traffic routes, or in rural areas characterized by lack of access to clean water and exposed to agricultural pollution. Climate change will put additional pressures on these communities as more frequent heat waves, drought, and extreme weather events negatively impact air and water quality and public health.
Since the Governor announced his intention to make the loan a part of his budget proposal in mid-May, we and our allies have worked tirelessly to reach a compromise with the Governor to put at least some of the $500 million in cap-and-trade auction revenues to work reducing emissions, improving health, creating jobs, and sustainably growing the economy. Investments in biking and walking, robust public transit, affordable homes near transit, and urban green space in these communities will reduce emissions while making these communities more resilient.
The need is great. In the greater Los Angeles region and the San Joaquin Valley, air pollution – the majority of it coming from transportation and disproportionately affecting low-income communities – conservatively costs $28 billion and contributes to 3,800 premature deaths annually. Investing cap-and-trade revenues as soon as possible in these types of solutions would reduce climate pollution, clean the air we breathe, lower transportation and housing costs, and put us on track for the 21st-century transportation system we need.
Fortunately, the long-term prognosis for investing cap-and-trade revenues in real transportation choices is very positive. The Administration’s Final Investment Plan for cap-and-trade revenues – which takes a longer view of the program – adopts nearly all of the recommendations in the Sustainable Communities for All platform advanced by TransForm, Housing California, and dozens of allies from across the state. This points toward potentially billions of dollars between now and 2020 to invest in affordable transit-rich, healthy communities. Our task in the following months is to move full speed ahead, working with our allies, the Governor, and the Legislature to develop these programs, ensure future budgets will fully invest cap-and-trade revenues in our communities, and hasten the full repayment of the $500 million loan.
In the coming weeks, this blog will highlight some of the projects and programs to cut greenhouse gases and provide community benefits that are ready for investment now.