Governor Newsom’s Revised Budget Increases Funds for Wildfires, Climate Investments, and Energy Reliability
By Brian White, KP Public Affairs
On May 13th Governor Newsom released his revised 2022-23 budget (May Revise) during a press conference where he outlined his priorities on how to spend an unexpected, and unprecedented, $100 billion surplus. The May Revise supersedes what the Governor presented in his January budget, and the Senate and Assembly Budget committees are now reviewing it to determine what they will agree on before the June 15th budget deadline, which the Governor must then by July 1st.
The historic budget surplus is largely attributed to significantly more dollars pouring into the state’s General Fund from personal and corporate income taxes and sales taxes. By law, about half of the projected surplus must go to public education while also expanding the “rainy day fund.” This means at least $40 billion will already be set aside for constitutional spending with another $18 billion the Governor proposes for inflation relief to get money back into the pockets of Californians. But most of the remaining $49 billion in discretionary income will be spent on one-time spending that the Governor and Legislature will try to dedicate for other programs such as transportation, homelessness, housing, and climate change.
It remains to be seen if the Legislature will lower some of the Governor’s requests, increase them, or simply outright reject others. But all indications point to the Senate and Assembly (primarily Democrats) seeking to quickly coalesce around their priorities but also not rubber stamping everything the Governor wants. There continues to be a huge debate about the Governor’s proposal which seeks to provide a $400 rebate for each vehicle owner (maximum of two vehicles) help defray the costs of increased gas prices. There will likely be some form of a rebate but it’s not clear if the majority Democrats will limit it to only low-income groups. The Governor also proposes to spend more resources on wildfire prevention and planning, in addition to significant more funding to address climate and energy reliability. Below is a listing of some of the additional funding the Governor proposes:
Wildfire and Forest Resilience
- Allocates $83.1 million General Fund to augment CAL FIRE’s fire protection resources through December 2022.
- Provides $104.4 million General Fund ($49.9 million ongoing) and 270 positions, phased in over four years, to provide the necessary CAL FIRE staffing component of two Governor's Budget fire crew proposals. This includes Conservation Corp crews and California Military Department crews.
- Funds $37.8 million ($29.3 million General Fund) in 2022 23, $35.6 million ($27.5 million General Fund) ongoing and 190 positions to enhance staffing, improve operational effectiveness, and provide critical administrative and program support necessary to sustain CAL FIRE’s direct mission functions.
- Appropriates $8 million General Fund and 34 positions in 2022 23, $7.6 million in 2023 24 and 2024 25, and $968,000 and five positions ongoing to reflect the staffing components of two Governor's Budget proposals for Emergency Surge Capacity and Response Enhancements,
Nature Based Solutions - appropriates $768 million over two years as part of last year’s budget agreement, including:
- $245 million for conservation and land acquisition at the Wildlife Conservation Board;
- $90 million for wetlands protection;
- $20 million for multi-benefit land repurposing;
- $10 million for healthy soils. o $10 million for wildland grazing;
- $120 million for conservancies. o $50 million for wildlife corridor;.
- $36 million for natural community conservation program planning and land acquisition;
- $20 million for technical assistance for climate smart land management.
Energy Reliability and Clean Energy Technology Deployment - provides $6.7 billion to support energy reliability in the state, including:
- $4.25 billion for investments in strategic reliability assets;
- $970 million for residential solar & storage;
- $950 million for distributed electricity backup assets & utility-scale assets that will participate in the strategic reliability reserve;
- $295 million for demand side grid support; and
- $250 million for transmission & energy financing
With respect to various policy bills FLC is actively tracking, the Senate and Assembly Appropriations Committees determined the fate of several which needed to pass the respective fiscal committees by May 20th to remain alive. Several bills were held on the so-called “suspense file,” but as of this writing, there were still approximately 400 bills that remained alive on the Senate Floor and about 600 bills that remained alive in the Assembly Floor. These bills must pass their house of origin by May 27th for further consideration in the opposite house or they will be dead for the year. Below is the status of some key bills:
- AB 522 (Fong) extends the forest fire prevention exemption from five years after the effective date of emergency regulations adopted by the Board of Forestry (BOF), which is February 19, 2024, until January 1, 2026. Status: Senate Natural Resources Committee Hearing – June 1st. Position: Support
- AB 1154 (Patterson) exempts from CEQA an egress route project to improve emergency access to and evacuation from a subdivision without a secondary egress route if the subdivision has been identified by the BOF, and the BOF recommends the creation of a secondary access to the subdivision. Status: Senate Environmental Quality Committee Hearing – June 1st. Position: Support
- AB 1717 (Aguiar-Curry) expands the definition of public works, for which prevailing wage must be paid to workers, to include publicly funded fuel reduction work performed as part of a fire mitigation project. This would increase the time and costs for completing needed wildfire prevention projects, simply because they may have received some state funding. Status: On Assembly Floor. Position: Oppose
- AB 2322 (Wood) requires the Building Standards Commission (BSC) to adopt, approve, codify, and publish mandatory building standards for fire resistance based on occupancy risk categories in very high, high, and moderate California fire severity zones in state responsibility areas, and local responsibility areas. Status: On Assembly Floor. Position: Watch
- AB 2377 (Muratsuchi) establishes within CAL FIRE, a new Chief of Wildfire Prevention to be appointed by the Governor. This position would be responsible for prioritizing acres for fire and fuels treatment and executing those treatments; streamlining required regulatory approvals; and achieving the state’s goal of treating 500,000 acres annually by 2025. Status: Assm Appropriations Committee. Status: Position: Pending – Recommend Support
- AB 2672 (Flora) requires CAL FIRE to procure or establish a statewide defensible space and home hardening online platform for use by property owners to support and augment CAL FIRE in defensible space inspection requests. Status: Held in Assembly fiscal committee – DEAD. Position: Watch
- AB 2479 (Wood) requires CAL FIRE to report to the Legislature how it will increasingly use, develop, implement, facilitate, and support prescribed burn, cultural fire, and managed wildfire projects to burn an unspecified number of acres by January 1, 2030. Status: Held in Assembly fiscal committee - DEAD. Status: Watch
- AB 2878 (Aguiar-Curry) establishes the Forest Biomass Waste Utilization Program to develop an implementation plan for using biomass waste, including requiring the CPUC to adopt measures to use biomass waste that could support rural microgrids; provide incentives for electricity and pipeline interconnection for forest biomass projects; and consider increasing the megawatt cap of the Bioenergy Market Adjusting Tariff. Status: On Assembly Floor. Position: Pending – Recommend Support
- SB 926 (Dodd) requires the CAL FIRE, on or before January 1, 2023, to establish the Prescribed Fire Liability Pilot Program (PFL Pilot Program) and a $20 million Prescribed Fire Claims Fund (Fund) to support coverage for losses from permitted prescribed fires by individuals and nonpublic entities. The Legislature enacted a CLFA-supported prescribed burn liability relief bill in 2021 (SB 332 – Dodd), so this funding for a pilot program would help implement that legislation. Status: On Senate Floor. Position: Recommend Support
- SB 1109 (Caballero) seeks to increase, extend, and expand requirements on electric utilities to procure energy from biomass generating electric facilities. Original bill would have expanded the 125-megawatt program to 225 MW; revises the financial commitments for utilities from five years to up to 15 years; and require existing contracts to be extended for an additional five years. New amendments deleted the increase of the additional 100 MW due to concerns raised by Senate Energy Committee. Status: On Senate Floor. Position: Support
- SB 1404 (Stern) would make changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) with regard to oak woodlands, including that a lead agency, instead of a county, determine whether a project may result in a conversion of oak woodlands. The bill would also require that the removal of three or more oak trees, as specified, constitute a significant effect on the environment under CEQA. Status: Held in fiscal committee - DEAD. Position: Recommend Oppose.
Appellate Decision on WFMP Case
Good News -- Exemptions and NTMPs
CAL FIRE has reversed its policy change regarding the acceptance of exemptions for NTMPs. Please refer to the link below to view the letter from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Ken Pimlott) to the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (Keith Gilless).
Should you have any questions, please send an email to the FLC Legislative Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letter and Supporting Content from CAL FIRE to Board of Forestry
Legislative Committee Assignments
Public Policy Institute of California
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) issued a report in mid-September on the status of forest health in the Headwaters Forests. On September 20, there was a panel debriefing on the report. Click on the links below to download the documents.
If you are interested in wathcing the panel debrief, the video is posted on the PPIC's website: