Editorials

Jerry Brown wheels and makes deals, as the cap-and-trade vote goes down to the wire

California Gov. Jerry Brown, left, joined by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon urges the Senate Environmental Quality Committee to approve a pair of climate change bills last week.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, left, joined by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon urges the Senate Environmental Quality Committee to approve a pair of climate change bills last week. AP

Call it what it is: Sausage making, horse-trading, brinkmanship or just plain legislating.

Gov. Jerry Brown is laying his prestige and power on the line to wrest a two-thirds vote out of the Legislature to extend California’s cap-and-trade program.

“This is the most important vote of your life,” he told legislators last week. Practiced negotiators rarely state so publicly that they want to a deal. But Brown is nothing if not unorthodox, and he is serious. Legislators know governors have life-and-death control over their bills, and Brown will be around through 2018, signing and vetoing legislation.

The vote, originally set for last week, is supposed to happen on Monday, and negotiators worked through the weekend, trying to induce more legislators to support. We urge support for it, understanding that aspects of the program are less than ideal.

Heading into this final week before they depart for a summer recess, some legislators envisioned a grand bargain that would include a $3 billion bond to finance affordable housing and urban infill, and a multi-billion dollar bond for parks and water projects. Voters would get final say over any bonds in 2018.

The need for more affordable housing is clear. Any housing deal ought to include streamlining of environmental regulations for infill housing, so long as the projects comply with existing zoning requirements. The water and parks bond could be important, too, if it emphasizes flood control and water infrastructure projects.

If a deal is to happen this session, it would come after Brown’s gets his priority, a vote on cap-and-trade, the market-based system that is supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while generating billions in revenue as polluters pay in various ways to offset their emissions. Any deal would shape California energy policy through 2030, long after Brown and most sitting legislators have left office.

The governor, believing that he cannot rely solely on Democrats to provide the necessary two-thirds margin, hopes to attract Republicans.

The bill would provide between $250 million and $350 million a year in tax cuts, $3.5 billion in total through 2030. Most would be aimed at manufacturers, including oil refineries, in the form of sales tax exemptions on equipment, including new technology that would help reduce emissions. Brown also agreed to suspend until 2030 a tax on people who live in the foothills to help pay for firefighting. He had sought the tax in his first year in office to close a multi-billion dollar budget gap.

But although the California Chamber of Commerce is supporting the measure, Republicans who believe they have a future in partisan elections remain reluctant, knowing their party is dominated by people who oppose taxes. Because most greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and trucks, consumers would almost surely pay more at the pump. The current cap-and-trade program adds about 11 cents to a gallon of gas.

Under current law, Democrats who control the Legislature can spend the proceeds as they see fit with a simple a majority vote. On Friday, Republicans offered a proposal that would give them a say over how the money is spent, something they don’t have now, The Bee’s Christorpher Cadelago, Alexei Koseff and Taryn Luna reported.

Giving Republicans a say over the spending would be a significant concession. It’s all part of the deal and reminiscent of years when budgets required two-thirds votes, giving Republicans a say.

The next time you’re in Redding, check out the Sundial Bridge. If you’re ever down in Hemet, visit the Western Center for Archaeology & Paleontology, known as the bones museum. They were delivered by Maurice Johannessen and Dave Kelley, Republican legislators of years past who knew how to make deals. It was called legislating.

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