Green Jobs

California Green Job Initiative's Broken Promises

Disappointment doesn't stop backers from offering new promises


When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed California's anti-global-warming law (AB 32) in 2006, he did so amid fanfare over a predicted boom in "green jobs." Gov. Jerry Brown likewise has used the promise of an emerging low-pollution economy to ameliorate fears over the loss of traditional jobs as "cap-and-trade" policies boost costs for the state's businesses.

Green jobs have been growing rapidly percentage-wise, but that's mainly a function of the tiny size of this sector. Fortune magazine reported on a "big spike" of 9,800 green jobs nationwide over three months — but that's still a pittance in a nation of 320 million people. California didn't top that list.

This slow performance explains the recent brouhaha over an Associated Press report about the failure of 2012's Proposition 39 to live up to its goals. The "Clean Energy Jobs Act" – which closed a corporate tax loophole and diverted the extra revenue to green-energy projects in public schools — claimed it would create 11,000 jobs a year.

"Money is trickling in at a slower-than-anticipated rate, and more than half of the $297 million given to schools so far has gone to consultants and energy auditors," according to AP. "The board created to oversee the project and submit annual progress reports to the Legislature has never met … ."

The "yes" ballot argument promised "a complete and full accounting of all funds and expenditures, and full public disclosure." That was supposed to come from the official disclosure process — not from an enterprising reporter who revealed that instead of 33,000 new jobs over three years, the initiative has created only 1,700 jobs.

The report has sparked the usual Capitol response. Republican legislators have called for oversight hearings. They were joined by Democrat Henry Perea of Fresno, who likewise said the state ought to "see how the money is being spent, where it is being spent and seeing if Prop. 39 is fulfilling the promise that it said it would." That seems reasonable.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, and his fellow Proposition 39 co-chairman, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, responded with a statement: "It's irresponsible and more than a little misleading to prejudge a long-term, multiyear program this early in the process."

How does the multiyear nature of the process explain why the oversight committee has never even met? Although such programs clearly need time to evolve, that's not the line Proposition 39's backers were using while they were touting the measure.

"(I)n the campaign three years ago, promoters promised fast results, and officials responsible for making unbiased assessments of ballot measures made certain guarantees," wrote a Sacramento Bee editorial recently. The newspaper, which endorsed the measure in 2012, noted that voters "hate being manipulated."

Not to be too cynical, but voters ought to be used to such manipulation by now when it comes to ballot measures. They approved a $68-billion high-speed-rail project in 2008 that offered specific guarantees — few of which are included in the current rail plan. In 2012, they approved Proposition 30, which increased taxes to bolster education spending. It's old news now, but public schools only get a portion of the extra cash.

There's more here than another initiative that fails to live up to its hype. Many observers (including the Union-Tribune editorial board) had problems with the old loophole – i.e., giving companies with multistate operations a choice of methods for calculating their state tax burden. Instead of closing it and easing taxes for other businesses, Proposition 39 created a program built on bold claims about the future economy. More than 61 percent of voters agreed.

De Leon is now pushing a bill (SB 350) that would impose other costly mandates on businesses (cutting gasoline use by 50 percent, increasing the use of renewable energy to 50 percent and doubling the energy efficiency of current buildings by 2030). The pitch includes familiar lingo about a green-jobs revolution.

Sure, revolutions take time. But is it irresponsible to suggest the public consider the failed results of past promises before they embrace new promises from many of the same people?