By Darby Kernan.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller
For anyone involved in the legislative process, there’s nothing like the combination of stress, anxiety and excitement that comes with the Legislature’s end of session. And there’s nothing like the teamwork displayed by the CSAC staff to help us accomplish our goals. With the session ending Friday night, we can finally catch our breath and reflect on our legislative accomplishments on behalf of California Counties this year.
With California facing another stark year of devastating wildfires, there was no bigger priority for CSAC than to protect our counties, our communities and our residents. This was an enormous challenge; we first had to fight hard to maintain the present wildfire liability law called inverse condemnation that was opposed by the utilities. Hard work by our lobbying team and partners defeated that effort, allowing us to turn our attention to helping craft SB 901, a comprehensive wildfire prevention package. This legislation – currently on the governor’s desk – is a strong start to how the state can begin minimizing wildfire risk as we move forward. An investment of $1 billion over five years will go toward fire prevention. In the end, we were able to turn a significant risk of shifting liability to local government and fire victims into a strong package of solutions.
Our legislative successes this year went beyond wildfires. We were able to help secure an historic investment of $700 million to combat homelessness. A top state budget priority for CSAC, this investment will help our communities make substantial progress in addressing homelessness, mental illness and transitional housing.
The 2018-19 state budget also included a $280 million reimbursement – with interest – for prior mandate claims. This is critically needed discretionary revenues that our 58 counties can invest in vital programs and services.
Other key fiscal victories included $68 million in direct assistance for disaster-impacted counties to backfill lost property tax revenue and to reimburse clean-up costs to communities devastated by wildfires and debris flows. We are also seeing an increase of $39 million in county funding to carry out social service programs. Counties are now being compensated for the actual cost of delivering these programs.
All told, our successes amount to more than $2 billion to improve wildfire prevention, help our impacted communities recover and provide key services to the homeless and mentally ill.
This was truly a team effort. From our legislative and communication team members, to our key staff members in administrative, operations and our print shop, the wheels kept turning because everyone was moving in the same direction. As I reflect back on the last eight months, I am truly proud to be part of the CSAC family.
But even though legislators have returned to their home districts, our work is far from done. There is legislation that needs to be signed or vetoed by the Governor by the end of the month. At the same time, we will continue opposing Propositions 5 and 6, participating in laying the groundwork for the 2020 Census, heading out to visit our members, and planning our Annual Meeting — to name just a few items on our plate for the next few months.
Before we know it, we will be wishing you happy holidays and then be back on track for the 2019-20 legislative session. It’s a never-ending cycle, but it’s a ride I know I will be excited to take once again as part of a strong team committed to protecting the interests of California’s Counties.