Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 7:22 pm | Fair 64º


Bob Harris: California Jobs Initiative Is Bad Policy

The ballot proposal is nothing more than an attempt to sabotage AB 32, the state’s landmark global warming bill

Assembly Bill 32, California’s landmark global warming bill, has been getting a lot of attention lately — and not much of it is positive. Much of the coverage seems to have been spurred by a proposed ballot initiative that would suspend AB 32 until California’s unemployment rate falls below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. This ballot proposal is known to its supporters as the California Jobs Initiative.

Proponents tout the initiative as reasonable given the condition of California’s economy. Despite what they might imply by proposing an unemployment threshold, supporters of the initiative are not AB 32 enthusiasts who think it’s prudent to wait for better economic conditions. They are opportunistic opponents of AB 32 who see a chance to go for the kill. Instead of reasonable policy, the initiative is a poorly disguised attempt to sabotage AB 32.

To see how the California Jobs Initiative would endlessly delay AB 32, one only needs to look at the history of California’s quarterly unemployment rate. In the past 20 years, only twice has California enjoyed at least four consecutive quarters of less than 5.5 percent unemployment.

The state’s average quarterly unemployment rate from 1990 through 2009 was 6.9 percent. Even when recession-laden 2009 is tossed out the window, the average is still 6.7 percent. The proposed ballot initiative would require four consecutive quarters of unusually low unemployment before proceeding with AB 32.

Supporters of the jobs initiative know that the unemployment threshold set by the initiative would be almost impossible to achieve in any near future, virtually guaranteeing that AB 32 would be taken off the table for years to come. Furthermore, it’s likely that the initiative would be detrimental — not beneficial as claimed. If forced to wait for the prescribed employment conditions, California may be waiting an impossibly long time and at sizable cost.

So said a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The nonpartisan office found that delaying the implementation of AB 32 would feel good now, but it could have consequences down the road. Californians would be trading lower energy bills now for lost ground on clean energy and the loss of a multitude of green jobs that would no longer be created. Not to mention the loss of potential revenue because the state would no longer regulate carbon credits.

Does AB 32 cost money? Of course. But it also transforms an economy and makes California one of the leading subnational governments in the world on greenhouse gas reductions.

The California Jobs Initiative has an important question at its core: Are there economic conditions that would justify modifying AB 32’s implementation? Unfortunately, the nobility of the question is completely sidetracked by the disingenuous nature of the initiative. It presents the illusion that its supporters think AB 32 is a wonderful idea under the right circumstances. A much more genuine approach would be to simply tell California voters of the intention to bury AB 32 under an insurmountable burden.

There are legitimate differences between conservatives and liberals on the proper role of government in combating environmental problems. There could even be very productive discussions about altering the implementation of AB 32 given the current economic climate.

The California Jobs Initiative is neither a solution nor a significant contribution to such debates. Instead, it is bad policy that would take the state backward instead of forward. Supports of the initiative are not interested in correction or improvement. They are simply focused on endless delay and postponement.

To say it in a way both sides can agree on: The California Jobs Initiative is focused on what the state can’t afford to do.

— Bob Harris is a graduate of the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy in Malibu.

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