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March 5, 2010, California Farm Bureau Federation Friday Review of bills and laws

The California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) voted 3-2 on Wednesday to list the California Tiger Salamander (CTS) as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The CTS is already listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), so the species receives no additional benefit. However, CESA doesnít allow take exemptions like the ESA does, so while ranchers still have protections for routine and ongoing ranching activities under the ESA those same protections donít apply under CESA. The Commission had already twice rejected petitions to list the CTS in 2001 and 2004. This most recent listing was the result of a lawsuit filed challenging the Commissionís 2004 decision and in 2006 the court overturned the Commissionís rejections of the petition. CFBF opposed this listing and joined a coalition of interests opposing the listing before the Commission. CFBF plans to investigate opportunities to provide ranchers with benefits similar to those provided under the federal ESA.

The Senate Local Government Committee held a Williamson Act oversight hearing on March 3rd that turned into a love fest for Californiaís most important land conservation program. The committeeís chief consultant, Peter Detwiler, prepared a briefing paper that analyzed the program "past, present, and future." Three panels of witnesses representing counties, the conservation community and landowners provided a passionate defense of Williamson Act and urged the legislature and the governor to continue to honor the stateís long time commitment and partnership agreement to help backfill the counties forgone property tax revenue.

Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case led off the discussion by describing the Williamson Act as "one of the best tools available" to insure continued agricultural viability in California. She noted that agriculture is "on the edge" due to the economic downturn and the continuing drought, and regulatory water shortages. The California State Association of Counties also submitted a survey indicating that a majority of respondents are investigating options for the non-renewal process and other long term strategies to deal with a lack of subvention funding. Kern County planning director, Ted James, also provided very supportive testimony on the importance of how the program compliments local government planning efforts and is effective when used in conjunction with General Plan, Zoning and other programs to guide urban growth and help protect agricultural resource areas from incompatible use.

Farm Bureau was represented at the two hour hearing by President Paul Wenger and his oral testimony can be viewed at the 1:22 mark in the California Channel video. Farm Bureau also submitted written comments at the request of the committee and they are available for review on Farm Bureauís website under Action Center/Current Issues/Land Use.

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The legislature approved and sent to the governor the so-called "gas tax swap" in AB8X 6 (Assembly Budget Committee). This previously stalled proposal was the subject of extensive negotiations between Democratic leadership and the governor that resulted in the removal of the two "corporate tax rollback" provisions (the partial suspension of the NOL deduction and delay of one year of the unitary utilization of tax credits) and the insertion of an increase in the state excise tax on gas. The bill would exempt gasoline from the sales and use tax on July 1, 2010 while increasing the excise tax on gasoline by 12.9 cents on July 1, 2010. Beginning in 2011-12 and thereafter, the Board of Equalization (BOE) would be authorized to adjust the excise rate to match what the sales tax on gasoline would otherwise provide. The bill also would increase the state sales tax on diesel on July 1, 2011, 1.75 percent to increase revenue while decreasing the excise tax on diesel on July 1, 2011 from 18 cents per gallon to 13.6 cents per gallon, which decreases revenue for the Highway Users Tax Account by about $120 million. In 2012-13 and thereafter, BOE would adjust the excise rate to keep the decrease in the excise revenue equal to the increase in the sales tax revenue. This convoluted approach to insure revenue neutrality was necessary so the bill would only require a majority vote for passage.

The increase in the sales tax on diesel will be earmarked for the Public Transportation Account in the State Transportation Fund to help replace some of the revenue lost due to the repeal of the sales tax on gas. The bill also contains language intended to protect K-14 from any reduction in the Prop. 98 funding guarantee. The Governorís proposal in his January Budget would have reduced that funding by $836 million. The bill should provide some modest State General Fund savings.

 
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              Page Updated: Sunday March 07, 2010 09:56 PM  Pacific


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