California budget contains $1.2B in legislator earmarks

Praise for the deal poured in after the vote on CA AB129 (21R) from lawmakers trumpeting their victories, like $8 million to help a conservancy buy Banning Ranch, a 385-acre parcel of land in coastal Orange County.

“This project will restore vital coastal wetlands, provide unparalleled coastal access for surrounding underserved communities and preserve this jewel for all Southern Californians to enjoy,” said Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach).

Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) notched eight appropriations totaling $17 million, including food assistance programs, park upgrades, an anti-Asian-hate arts program and a center for people overdosing on methamphetamines. Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-Greenbrae) secured nearly $15 million for his district, including programs for homeless veterans, highway and drinking water system upgrades, and wildfire prevention. Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) obtained $100 million to fix crumbling water canals plus $25 million for a firefighting training center in Fresno, among other earmarks.

Republicans, though, argued the state should have put more money into reserve and paid off growing unemployment insurance costs.

“Now is the time to plan responsibly and build up our reserves, while reducing the burdens on small businesses and families,” Assemblymember Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) said. “This unsustainable budget ignores the lessons learned from past mistakes and fails to address basics concerns for Californians.”

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said the earmarks reflected local requests and were a response to the record budget surplus that has surpassed $76 billion.

“The budget allocations are in direct response to what Senators are hearing from the local level,” her office said in an email. “California’s finances overall are in great shape, but we know many local communities continue to struggle in the aftermath of the pandemic. This is a common sense approach that allocates one-time state resources to help our local communities.”

Most of the earmarks are for municipal parks and buildings, water infrastructure improvements, police departments, homelessness, firefighting and wildfire fuels management. The largest single earmark is $45 million for the Southeast Los Angeles Cultural Center Project, while two earmarks are the smallest at $50,000 each: one would rename the “Eden Landing Ecological Reserve” to the “Congressman Pete Stark Ecological Reserve” in Alameda County; the other would go toward analyzing sea level rise and sediment management.

The $1.2 billion in legislator requests will flow to both local entities and state agencies. That includes $65 million for various University of California programs; $53 million for the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy; $42.5 million for the Coastal Conservancy; and $25 million for the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. The bill language prevents any of the money from being spent before Sept. 30.