Paying for Pollution

Proposition 26 and its Potential Impacts on State Environmental and Public Health Protections in California

October 26, 2010
Cara Horowitz, M. Rhead Enion, Sean B. Hecht

This report considers the potential effect of Proposition 26, which appears on the November 2, 2010 California ballot, on the state’s environmental and public health protections. With very little time remaining before the election, controversy rages over whether the passage of Proposition 26 would make it harder for the state to fund environmental protection programs and other public benefit programs.

Proposition 26 proposes to expand the definition of a “tax” under California law. As a result of this expansion, some fees and other charges imposed by the state or by cities or counties could no longer be enacted by a simple majority vote of the Legislature. Instead, a 2/3 supermajority vote would be required—the same vote now required to pass a budget or a new tax.

We have taken a careful look at the measure’s language and its impacts on environmental and public health programs in California, and have concluded that Proposition 26 would erect significant barriers to funding many of these programs in the future. This could have substantial and wide-ranging impacts on implementation of the state’s health, safety and environmental laws.

We find that Proposition 26 would:

  • Undercut the principle that polluters should pay for harms they cause.
  • Likely repeal at least two product sustainability laws.
  • Create a new barrier to ensuring that existing environmental and public health fees keep up with changing needs or with inflation.
  • Undermine the establishment of stable funding streams for key state environmental efforts, like the Green Chemistry Initiative and the Global Warming Solutions Act, that have already been enacted but that are not yet well funded.
  • Affect even revenue-neutral measures in unforeseeable ways.

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