Budget Debrief: Yet Another Whirlwind Legislative Session Tracked By SBC

Brittany Benesi

Brittany Benesi

Government and Community Affairs Director

Following yet another whirlwind legislative session, featuring twists and turns and an unexpected windfall of revenue, there are many policy and budgetary outcomes that will benefit the Sierra. 

Today’s legislative wrap-up will focus largely on the budget, since so many of our region’s policy priorities got swept into – and in many cases, benefited – from this year’s historic budget surplus. I’m sure many of you are well familiar by now with the wildfire resilience funding package in particular, and maybe with the entire climate package as a whole, both of which the Governor signed on September 23 as part of a $15 billion climate package at a press conference in Sequoia National Park. It’s official, and there are a whole lot of opportunities for the communities, economy, and environment of the Sierra Nevada within those packages, so they’re worth taking a look at. 

Let’s start with the wildfire resilience package. This package marks the paradigm shift that the Administration has been talking about since last year, committing a significant downpayment of over $1.5 billion total since July 2020. In addition to the $536 million secured through Early Action funding in April, 90% of which has been fully allocated, the 2021-22 budget adds $988 million in funding for wildfire risk reduction. When we compare this amount to the $200 million we’ve previously seen allocated, it’s undeniably a huge win for wildfire risk reduction and forest health. 

Out of that $988m, key items include significant funding to the Sierra Nevada and California Tahoe Conservancies, recommitments to Cal Fire’s Forest Health and Legacy grant programs, as well as their Fire Prevention Grants. $60 million was also allocated to the Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program, which has been put in statute by AB 9 and was also signed by the Governor, as well as a historic investment in Tribal Engagement intended to be very flexible in allocation and guided by tribal leaders. 

There’s also significant funding for market mechanisms (including additional funding for the Climate Catalyst Fund – a revolving loan fund meant to spur wood product innovation), a new prescribed fire liability fund meant to lower insurance barriers for prescribed fire projects, and $18 million for workforce development – an area that with these unprecedented project investments, we’ll likely be focusing on quite a bit as we measure the impact of these funds. 

It’s worth noting that the budget extends SB 901, the commitment of $200 a year from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, through 2028-29. 

I also wanted to highlight the exceptional investment into the transition to electric vehicles, with about $1.8 billion allocated this year to incentivize increased adoption of zero‑emission vehicles and installation of charging infrastructure, and about $3 billion total in new funding over the next three years. These programs will help smooth California’s pathway to the Governor’s Executive Order N-79-20, which requires that by 2035, all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California be zero-emission vehicles. These programs will be further explored in an upcoming Sierra CAMP workshop

One of the major focuses in this budget, the area where many of the Sierra’s climate policy priorities transitioned to, is the climate resilience budget package: a three year, $3.7 billion package made up of basically five component (natural working lands, extreme heat, sea level rise, strategic investments, and regional and local climate resilience). 

Over the next several years, the state has agreed to invest about $1.37 billion into nature based solutions, a pot which includes habitat restoration, conservation, and biodiversity protections. Then there’s $800 million going into urban greening and extreme heat, made up of community resilience centers, the low income weatherization program, urban forestry, and extreme heat set asides. These provisions in the final deal are especially significant, as increasing resilience to extreme heat has been a minor component of earlier state climate proposals. There’s also $612 million for ocean and coastal resilience with a strong focus on coastal adaptation and protection; and finally about $87 million for strategic planning and investments, $11 million of which is for the state’s Fifth Climate Assessment as well as $50 million for a biomass to biofuels or hydrogen pilot project to be located in the Sierra. 

The package also includes $819 million for building community and regional climate resilience, with new investments in climate adaptation planning and implementation grant programs through the Office of Planning and Research and Strategic Growth Council. The details of several of these line items remain fairly broad, with some questions regarding exactly what will be funded when and who will be responsible for implementation. We do know, however, that there will be opportunity to provide input on the guidelines, especially for new programs. A significant area of interest for the Sierra are two line items totaling $260M for programs to fund local, regional and tribal climate adaptation plans and implementation actions, with $35 million slated for this fiscal year. 

The intent of this funding is to help communities that need support for capacity building and planning get those pieces in place, while empowering areas that have plans waiting on the shelves to implement that work and tackle each region’s most pressing climate impacts. SBC worked to ensure that funding wasn’t solely slated for planning and capacity building in this first year, since so many of our communities have plans ready to go, it was important we strike this balance in helping jurisdictions catch up without leaving others waiting. 

Also of note, though not included in the Climate package, is the Community Economic Resilience Fund, a new $600 million fund focused on regional and local economic resilience through the high roads jobs development and resilience planning, of which adaptation will be a key component. 

Each of these packages represent significant wins for climate resilience efforts, but obviously the work in advocacy, planning, and implementation is all far from done. 

The final benefits of these packages and our ability to utilize local knowledge and local action to take on the region’s climate impacts will be determined partially by the Sierra’s ability to engage on the funding guidelines. We will remain steadfast in our focus on these issues, the critical needs addressed by this budget package, and the subsequent benefits to our communities to ensure this level of investment is continued forward.

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