Governor Brown’s budget proposal threatens the future of California’s regional and county fairs. As part of his budget solutions, the Governor has recommended cutting all of the $32 million in funding that California’s fairs receive.

“The fair network generates more than $126 million in direct tax income for the state every year,” said Stephen Chambers, Executive Director of the California Fairs Alliance (CFA). “That represents nearly a four-to-one return on the state’s overall $32 million investment. In this light, the budget plan actually dries up an income stream that flows to the state from California fairs.”

The $32 million reduction accounts for just a fraction of a percent of the state’s total budget deficit.

Ending these fairs would not only cost cities, counties, and the state economic activity and their subsequent taxes, it would be to the detriment of community pride, youth activity, and traditions stretching back 150 years or more.

Take, for instance, the San Joaquin County Fair. Last year was its 150th anniversary. Since 1860, the fair has been celebrating local and youth achievements, especially in livestock.

4-H clubs and FFA watch their members, young and old, parade their livestock before an auction. Awards are given, and hundreds of thousands of dollars trade hands.

“Fairs offer not only the opportunity to show and judge livestock, but they are used to make money too,” Chambers said. “We know a lot of revenues go to fund young people’s education, and especially in rural areas, it will be difficult to find alternatives.”

According to a San Joaquin County Fair press release, the 2009 live stock auction grossed nearly $800,000. Many of those who raised and sold the livestock at auction were youths, and as a result 95% of all money transacted at the auction went to youths.

The potential economic loss would only increase the burden of unemployment affecting young Californians. Already, 1 in 3 teenagers in California are without jobs. In San Joaquin County, the fair employs between 300 and 400 temporary summer employees, and overall unemployment continues to top 17%.

Those amounts are just a snapshot of the statewide picture. According to a recently released report from the California Department of Food and Agriculture titled California Fairs: Statewide Economic Impacts, (which can be viewed here), California’s fairs result in $2.85 billion in economic activity. They are responsible for more than 25,000 jobs and when all direct and indirect taxes are totaled, the fairs actually generate $126 million in tax revenues.

But H.D. Palmer of the California Department of Finance says that during tough economic times, difficult decisions must be made. Palmer points to the Governor’s proposal to cancel Redevelopment agencies, which could end up restoring funding to the fairs.

“In second year under the Governor’s plan, an additional $500 million in tax revenues would flow to cities, and $300 million to counties. They could decide to apply a portion of those new revenues to this purpose,” Palmer said. “But that would be their decision.”

But Chambers doesn’t believe that’s a viable option. “We can’t expect local government to use money that they’d use for law enforcement to fund fairs,” Chambers said. “The fact is the single largest beneficiary of the income and sales taxes that fairs generate is the state. If anyone is going to pay for that, it will be the state.”

To find out how the state currently funds your county’s fair, you can take a look at this spreadsheet, provided by the California Department of Finance.

The economic impact of individual fairs can be located on the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s site here.

The list of at-risk fairs is available here.