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Proposition 39: The gift that keeps on giving

Peter Miller

Posted December 5, 2012 in Solving Global Warming

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This time of year, a lot of us are focused on gifts: Hanukah gifts, Christmas gifts. For those of us lucky enough to have jobs, there’s sometimes even the prospect of a year-end bonus.

One gift that hasn’t received the attention it deserves is a gift we California voters gave to ourselves on November 6th. Called Proposition 39, it’s the proverbial gift that keeps on giving—to California school kids (including my own two), to taxpayers, to job seekers, and to all of us who need clean air to breathe and a stable climate to live in.

Passed with the support of 61 percent of voters, Prop 39 closes a corporate tax loophole that encouraged multi-state companies to move their main operations out-of-state to pay less in California taxes. In doing so, Prop 39 will bring an additional $1 billion into California’s cash-starved coffers every year. Importantly, for the next five years, half of that money—about $2.5 billion—will be placed into the new Clean Energy Job Creation Fund. That Fund will help underwrite energy efficiency measures and renewable energy in California schools and other public buildings, which is where the benefits come in.

 Let’s drill down on those benefits for a minute:

Jobs: 20,000 to 30,000 of them, economists estimate. Energy efficiency and renewable energy jobs are good-paying. In the field, there are jobs for out-of-work construction workers who can install insulation and retrofit lighting. There are jobs for office workers, manufacturing workers, truckers, sales people, middle managers, accountants—in other words, the broad spectrum of work that Californians need now.

Energy Savings To Help Maintain Vital Educational Services: Efficiency upgrades can save schools up to 30-50 percent on energy. In these days of steep budget shortfalls, that’s important: After salaries and benefits, energy is districts’ largest cost. Likewise, solar arrays and other renewable energy systems are already saving schools across California millions that they can use to maintain class sizes and fund vital educational programs. Prop 39 will make more of these systems possible statewide.

Pollution Reductions: Energy use in buildings rivals transportation for the title of largest global warming polluter in the Golden State. By employing energy efficiency and renewable energy to cut demand for polluting power, Prop 39 will decrease the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

A great example of the benefits that accrue from the kinds of energy makeovers Prop 39 will fund is the efficiency and solar program at Antelope Valley’s public schools, in northern Los Angeles County. Recent efficiency upgrades alone are now saving the district more than $300,000 a year. Meanwhile, over the next 20 years, solar arrays at 10 district schools will safeguard an additional $40 million—money the district is reinvesting in its core mission: educating kids. Add to that, pollution reductions totaling 12,500 tons of carbon dioxide annually—the equivalent of taking more than 2200 cars of the roads. All of us who breathe can be thankful for that.

Exactly how the Fund’s moneys will be apportioned is still to be decided. (Stay tuned for our recommendations in an upcoming blog post.) But no matter how the Job Creation Fund’s funds are divvied up, Prop 39 is a gift to us all. It will create jobs. It will allow school districts to spend money on our kids’ educations, rather than waste it on energy. And it will cut the pollution that’s linked to asthma, heart disease and global warming.

I can’t think of anything else I’d rather receive this year.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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