The biggest problem faced by the State of California is not “climate change” or “poverty” it is the overreaching power of California government itself, namely the California Legislature and Administration, and the threats that this Democrat establishment poses to California’s future, particularly with regard to the economy and individual liberty.
California Democrats are celebrating the passage of new climate change legislation that provides California government with broad, sweeping new powers to drastically curb greenhouse gas reductions without regard to economic impact or the basic rights of businesses and individuals.
“What we’re doing here is farsighted, as well as far-reaching,” said Governor Jerry Brown (D) at the signing ceremony for SB 32, which requires the state to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The state’s current greenhouse gas reduction policy required meeting 1990 levels by 2020, a target which was hailed as very significant and strictest in the world when approved 10 years ago.
As it turns out, these emission reduction targets were met due to more limited state economic growth since 2006, as opposed to the achievement of a workable market-based system that was initially envisioned.
At a press conference held on September 8th, Governor Brown said that every Californian should brace themselves for the new “coercive power of government.” Experts say that in order to come anywhere close to meeting the new drastic goals, government will have to step in and regulate almost every area of daily life.
“We’re going to have to make the change about three times as fast as we’ve done so far,” said James Sweeney, director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University, according to a report by the San Jose Mercury News.
From the standpoint of individuals, government will need to step in and regulate where people live, how they get to work, how food is produced, and enact new taxes and ratepayer premiums to subsidize the new cleaner technologies needed to reach these goals, according to the Mercury News.
But arguably the biggest impact will be on the California business community which will face far more restrictive rules, regulations, prohibitions, and a significantly higher tax burden as well as ratepayer increases.
“You name it, we’re going to need it,” said Snuller Price, a senior partner at E3, an energy efficiency consulting firm that has worked with state regulators, according to San Jose Mercury News.
Thus, under the rubric of “climate change regulation” the California Legislature and Administration have granted themselves and a bureaucratic body that they appoint sweeping powers to achieve greenhouse gas reductions to the extent that is the “maximum technologically feasible” by adopting whatever rules, regulations, and taxes they see fit.
The political reality is that they have granted themselves unilateral power to punish political opponents, reward political supporters, and further consolidate their political power.
The base of the California Democratic Party, namely the state’s public employee unions, environmental groups, and “green technology” companies will be the primary beneficiaries of stricter regulations, bigger government, and expanded government regulatory agencies. All of these special interests contribute tens of million of dollars to help elect Democrats to the California Legislature, and are the Governor’s biggest supporters as well.
The California business community, namely the strongest organized opposition to the California Democrat political establishment, will be the primary losers.
This new package of climate change legislation has drawn heavy fire from a broad coalition of businesses led by the California Chamber of Commerce and the moderate California Business Roundtable who have both tended to be very sympathetic to moderate Democrat causes.
“Taken together, SB 32 and AB 197 impose very severe caps on the emission of greenhouse gases in California, without requiring the regulatory agencies to give any consideration to the impacts on our economy, disruptions in everyone’s daily lives or the fact that California’s population will grow almost 50% between 1990 and 2030,” wrote Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce in a statement urging the amendment of the legislation.
“At the very least, a market-based trading system to find the most cost effective and least impactful reductions should be amended into law, and this can be accomplished with legislation that requires only a simple majority vote,” Zaremberg wrote.
The passage of this climate change legislation represents a huge victory for proponents of a bigger, more “coercive” government, but represents a huge setback for the public interest, individual liberty, and the California economy.
The California Democrat Legislature and Governor Brown want us to trust them with this broad authority, but they have already proven that they are not deserving of such sweeping powers.
This is the same ruling class that continues to plunge the State of California further and further into debt by failing to reform the state’s pension system—at a cost of $1.5 trillion is estimated state and local pension debt, or more than $115,000 for every household in California, according to calculations based on official data obtained from Stanford University.
Moreover, this is the same Democrat establishment that has failed to ask for any increased efficiencies from the union-controlled state government bureaucracy or education system in the form of civil service reform, pay for performance, or the ability to fire underperforming or abusive employees and teachers.
Moreover, the California Legislature and Governor continue to pay only lip service to reform of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) which is captured by the energy sector and places the brunt of ratepayer increases on individuals and small businesses.
This Legislature and Governor spend, and spend and spend, but then propose that taxpayers to pay more than $6 billion in additional fuel taxes to fund road improvements, despite having the highest in the nation gas tax to go with an underperforming, highly inefficient California Transportation Department (Caltrans).
Moreover, California Democrats refuse to consider common sense reforms to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which is generally acknowledged to benefit the construction trades labor unions who use it to routinely block legitimate development projects unless wage concessions and other union perks are granted. Environmentalists and other opponents of new development also abuse CEQA to block legitimate projects and increase project costs.
CEQA is estimated to add at least 25% in increased costs to every public transportation project, while providing little in the terms of improved true environmental protection in return—ensuring that California taxpayers get an abysmal return on their tax dollars that are devoted to transportation projects.
Ronald Reagan famously said “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
That famous quote could not be more relevant to the most significant problem in California politics today—the threat of California government itself in the form of a far left, coercive California Legislature and Administration that has clearly run amuck.
I do not doubt that many liberal Democrats are sincere in wanting to combat climate change, but the extreme nature of this new “drastic action” and the sweeping, “coercive power” given to government is clearly politically motivated. And outside the realm of what is reasonable and workable to address a legitimate public policy issue.
While California Democrats love to present themselves as tireless leaders on “climate change” and having the guts to take “drastic” action, their crusade for a carbon free state is little more than a masquerade for their own political ambitions, a diversion from the state’s real policy problems, and the inability of the leading party to take any action that fails to advance the political agenda of their political base.
If the California Democrat Legislature can’t do anything positive for the right reasons, it’s probably better that they just don’t do anything at all.
Granting these extreme powers to a Democrat establishment with such a poor track record will only serve to further empower the special interests and advance more government policies that provide for their own self-aggrandizement.
David Kersten is the president of the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy (www.kersteninstitute.org). He is also an adjunct professor of public policy at the University of San Francisco and an independent consultant on public policy issues.