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Prop 26: The Scariest Anti-Environment Bill You’ve Never Heard Of

No on 23 and 26About three weeks ago, environmental groups who had been doing a decent job of raising awareness about Prop 23 -- the California proposition intended to stall implementation of carbon regulation (which was passed as AB32 years ago) -- seemed to collectively realize that they'd somehow missed an equally dangerous, but much quieter threat: Prop 26.

While Prop 23 would halt implementation of AB32 until the economy improves, Prop 26 would create all kinds of ways to mire climate legislation in bureaucratic red tape should the team behind Prop 23 fail. Aiming to save corporations from so-called "hidden taxes," Prop 26 would expand the definition of taxes so that more fees imposed by state and local governments would require a two-thirds majority vote for approval. That includes fees imposed for things like oil spill clean-ups

While some companies have steered clear of the Teaparty-backed Prop 23, which seems to be losing popularity every week, California companies interested in slowing down AB32 and maybe ridding themselves of responsibility for pollution altogether have been quietly funneling money to Prop 26. Chevron is the largest funder of the proposition, and other backers include Philip Morris and the US Chamber of Commerce (check out this fantastic graphic for more information on the proposition's backers). The new definition of "tax" would include everything from the tariff tacked on to tire sales to pay for tire recycling programs to fees charged to companies responsible for toxic waste and lead paint.

In addition to making it next to impossible to hold companies financially accountable for their impact on public health and the environment, the measure would make it even more difficult for the state to fund programs, a problem cash-strapped California really doesn't need at the moment. 

"By expanding the scope of what is considered a tax, the measure would make it more difficult for state and local governments to pass new laws that raise revenues," the non-partisan state Legislative Analyst's Office wrote, adding, "This change would affect many environmental, health, and other regulatory fees."

The LAO also said the measure could reduce state and local revenues by "up to billions of dollars annually," including $1 billion this year because it is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010.

On the flip side of the coin lies Prop 25, which the pro-23 and 26 crowd are fighting hard against (including Chevron, with another few million dollars donated to the No on 25 campaign). Prop 25 would go the opposite direction of Prop 26, changing the currently required two-thirds majority vote on budget matters to the same simple majority (51% of the votes) required to pass budget measures in 47 other states in the union. That, according to Big Business, would make it all too easy to pass new fees and taxes. Proponents of 25, on the other hand, say it would simply make it possible for California to (finally) pass a budget on time.

The upshot? If you're interested in casting a pro-environment vote in California's election, follow the money and steer clear of Props 23 and 26.

Amy Westervelt, Journalist
The former Managing Editor of the Journal, Amy is associate editor for The Faster Times and This Week in Earth, a columnist for Forbes, and contributes to an assortment of other magazines and websites. In 2007, Amy won the Folio Eddie for excellence in magazine editorial for her feature on algae as a feedstock for biofuel, which was published in Sustainable Industries magazine.

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