Drought dollars could begin flowing out of Sacramento in 2021/22 budget

Tulare County Board of Supervisors hears state, budget policy on drought and wildfire funding among other items that could help the county

VISALIA – The Tulare County Board of Supervisors received an update by their chief lobbying consultant, Paul Yoder, earlier this month. Out of all the hoopla that comes with policy lobbying in Sacramento, Yoder was keen to point out that drought legislation could become a priority in the state capitol. At least that’s the way it seems according to the state budget.

District 5 board supervisor, Dennis Townsend, asked what state budgeted drought funding could be used for. Yoder was quick to point that water storage projects are not in the cards. He said that more members of the legislature want to look at groundwater storage. But he added there is significant movement toward more drought funding.

“Both houses of the legislature, both parties are in agreement that more money needs to be appropriated in California to address the drought. And I do think in January when they come back you’ll see that as well,” Yoder said.

He added that “one senate Democrat” knew his district was facing a bad drought year already, and said they needed funding to help mitigate the impact. With that in mind he said that, “Legislators should start moving on this because it is affecting Salinas and part of Mendocino County.”

With legislators from outside the Valley finally paying some attention Yoder joked, “heaven forbid we get rain between now and January.”

Added benefits

There were some added benefits in the state’s budget that could help Tulare County. As of the last five years wildfires in the Sierra Nevada mountains has created public health concerns. But fires in other parts of the state has put the legislature on notice that this is a problem worth tackling.

Yoder said the overall feeling in Sacramento was that the legislature and governor were not appropriating enough money to the problem. And the money put toward it in this year’s budget was not enough. Other legislative members agreed, which could add some new funding to wildfire fights.

More funding coming down the pike for issues in the county is $7 billion in broadband internet investment. Another $4 billion is being spent on mental health for students in school. And $2 billion for “non-housing” costs for local government, in addition to $12 billion already dedicated to fighting homelessness in the state, was tucked into the 2021-2022 state budget as well.

Yoder added that voters will decide whether to legally bet on sports in the 2022 November election. If it passes the taxes from wagers could be a major boon for the state. Yoder said that $2 billion could be generated from the endeavor and that local jurisdictions could get 85% of that for behavioral health.

District 1 board supervisor, Larry Micari, asked whether the state would consider substance abuse as a part of their behavioral health policy. Yoder said that the policy is expected to address drug abuse and behavioral health at the same time. He added that Gov. Newsom has talked about legislative changes, and adjustments to Laura’s Law and conservatorship.

Laura’s Law is California’s state law that provides community-based, assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) to a small population of individuals who meet strict legal criteria and who – as a result of their mental illness – are unable to voluntarily access community mental health services.

Yoder told Micari that the governor is likely attempting to maximize the budget on behavioral health and substance abuse through additional work with the legislature. He added that any bill that could help counties treat people, Newsom would more than likely sign.

SB 559

The water infrastructure bill that would have helped fund much needed fixes for the Friant-Kern Canal was canned last month when the state Assembly snuffed it out with unhelpful amendments. Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) was less than pleased about the way her bill went down.

“Under these amendments, the departments would have to follow various guidelines and conduct studies in order for funding to be released and allocated. These requirements will further complicate the process and the fund disbursement, slowing construction on the State’s water conveyance canals,” a press release from Hurtado’s office stated in September. “Assembly Appropriations amendments also deleted the specific funding allotments planned for in SB 559 as introduced.”

Yoder said that what happened to SB 559 happens to a lot of bills as they move from the Senate to the Assembly. He said the difference of opinion that the Assembly had here was that it was too specific for projects. What the Assembly wanted was to create funding pots of money so funding could be a “jump ball” where people can lobby for project funding. That being said, Yoder doesn’t consider the Assembly’s actions as “anti-Valley.”

“I think you could have had a bill that could have proposed projects in the Sacramento watershed and you would have seen a similar action,” Yoder said.

District 2 board supervisor, Pete Vander Poel asked what the board could do to help lobby for it the next time it gets introduced. Yoder said the best way to get money for projects that would have been funded by SB 559 is still through the budgetary process. For that the county’s best option is still pressing their state representatives to push for funding for projects in the area.

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