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Legislative Report - November 2021

 

The California Legislature completed its work for the first year of the two-year session under the continuing specter of COVID-19.  Admittance to the Capitol for the public was once again severely limited as were legislative hearings and bill load restrictions for legislators.  A further complicating factor was the campaign surrounding the Recall Election of Governor Newsom running concurrently with the legislative session.  However, on a positive note, the State’s financial picture improved in 2021 leading to increased funding for special districts.

Recall of Governor Newsom Fails

After a turbulent political year for Governor Newsom, California voters overwhelmingly said “NO” to recalling him on September 14, 2021.  The actual vote margin exceeded most expert expectations and tracked with his 2018 election by getting 2/3rds of the votes cast to reject the Recall.  In the aftermath, the Governor struck a conciliatory tone by saying, “I’m humbled and grateful to the millions of Californians that exercised their fundamental right to vote and express themselves so overwhelmingly by rejecting the division, by rejecting the cynicism, by rejecting so much of the negativity that defined our politics in this country over the course of so many years.”  Only a brief recess from campaign politics for the Governor as he now faces election for a second term next November.

2021-2022 California State Budget

Assembly Bill 128 (Ting) was the Legislature’s version of a balanced budget that passed to comply with the constitutional deadline of June 15th.  Governor Newsom failed to allocate any COVID-19 relief funds to many special districts, including park districts, in his May Revise of the State Budget. An appropriation of $100 million for independent special districts that have encountered unanticipated costs or losses due to the COVID-19 public health emergency was included in this bill and signed by Governor Newsom on June 28, 2021.

Senate Bill 129 (Skinner) substantially amended AB 128 to reflect the agreement between the Governor and Legislature.  SB 129 retained the $100 million appropriation for COVID-19 relief and directed the Department of Finance (DOF) to develop a plan by September 1, 2021, to distribute the funds.  This bill was signed by Governor Newsom on July 12, 2021.  (See COVID-19 Relief Fund section for more details.)

SB 129 also contained an appropriation of $1 billion for wildfire prevention and forest resiliency activities, with allocation details to be determined in future budget trailer measures that ultimately became Senate Bill 170 and Senate Bill 155, both of which will be discussed in greater detail below.

Additionally, SB 129 included funding for parks, recreation, arts, culture, and housing and homelessness, stemming from special requests made by individual legislators, and all made possible by the surplus of money in the General Fund.

The list of various legislator-requested items, totaling almost $614 million, includes specific allocations to a number of CARPD Member agencies. Congratulations to those districts that were able to secure these funding opportunities.

COVID-19 Relief Fund

The 2021-22 Budget Act appropriated $100 million one‐time General Fund to provide fiscal relief to independent special districts.  These funds are designated to mitigate the effects of revenue losses or unanticipated costs incurred due to the COVID‐19 public health emergency.  The Department of Finance (DOF) application process was open to independent special districts from October 1 through October 15, 2021, and then extended to October 29, 2021.

According to the Budget Act, this fund is available to provide fiscal relief to special districts that have met all the following criteria:

1.  The agency is an independent special district.

2.  The district is reporting fiscal impacts due to the COVID-19 public health emergency:

a.) The district has encountered unanticipated costs due to the pandemic during the eligible period of March 4, 2020, to June 15, 2021; and/or,

b.) The district has encountered loss of revenue during the eligible period, which is calculated using revenue from all fund sources of fiscal year 2020-21 compared against revenue from all fund sources of fiscal year 2018-19.

3.  The district has not yet received direct COVID-19 fiscal relief from the state or federal government.

While there is no stated timeline for DOF to release the program funds, once DOF orders the State Controller to remit funds to each County Auditor-Controller, the funds must be disbursed within 30 days of receipt from the State Controller.  We have learned that the DOF is processing applications and the hope is to get approved applications to the State Controller, with funds disbursement in early to mid-January 2022.

2021-2022 Budget Trailer Bills—Wildfire Prevention & Forest Resiliency Activities

Governor Newsom signed two significant Budget Trailer Bills passed by the Legislature on the last night of the Session.  Senate Bill 170 (Skinner) is the “Budget Jr. Bill” that contains $988 million in wildfire prevention and forest resilience funding. Senate Bill 155 (Committee on Budget) contains the public resource funding package and provides funding and control language that governs the allocation of budget funds.

2021– Legislation Review

2021 was also a busy year relative to legislation.  Even with restrictions on the number of bills legislators were allowed to author, a myriad of measures were introduced.  The CARPD Legislative Committee tracked over 125 measures during the year.  Of course, CARPD was proud to sponsor SCR 52 which provided for specific legislative findings as to the value of recreation and park professionals and proclaimed the month of July as “California Parks and Recreation Professionals Month.”

In conclusion, any success realized this year would not have been possible without the leadership of CARPD Legislative Committee and Board.  The Committee is in the process for developing legislative priorities for 2022.

 

Russ Noack

Public Policy Advocates, LLC

 

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