Analyst says Jerry Brown's budget plan vulnerable to legal attack

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 - 7:58 am

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said Tuesday that Gov. Jerry 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.

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