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Why the absence of oversight on California's clean energy job fund?

Why the absence of oversight on California's clean energy job fund?
Billionaire Tom Steyer, the chief financier behind the Proposition 39 campaign, discusses a proposed bill to fund energy efficiency projects during a news conference at Mark Twin Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif. in Dec. 2012. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

When voters endorsed Proposition 39 in 2012, they did so with the best of intentions. The measure closed a corporate tax loophole that had deprived the general fund of desperately needed cash — an estimated $1 billion a year — and had encouraged multistate companies to locate jobs outside of California.

Making it even more enticing was the provision that diverted half the recovered tax revenue for the first five years to clean energy projects in public buildings, with schools at the top of the list, creating potentially thousands of new jobs in construction and related industries along the way.

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To make sure this windfall would be spent wisely, the proposition also created a citizens oversight board (which was appointed in 2014) to perform annual reviews of expenditures and to put out independent audits of the Clean Energy Job Creation Fund. It's too soon to tell if the clean energy program will meet the expectations of voters, but there is one aspect that so far has been a bust: oversight.

Halfway into this five-year program, with millions of dollars already spent, the citizens oversight board has not met. Not one time. No wonder there's concern about where the money is going.

A story this week by the Associated Press raised serious questions about the success of the clean energy funding project, and specifically about the job creation estimates. During the campaign, supporters of Proposition 39 — including Tom Steyer, the billionaire who helped bankroll the measure — suggested that the clean energy fund would result in as many as 11,000 jobs a year.

The AP reported that only 1,700 jobs have been created so far and that no comprehensive list has been compiled of pending projects. It also noted that about half of the $297 million spent so far has been on energy consultants and auditors. (Revenue from Proposition 39 has consistently come in lower than the estimated $1 billion.)

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon, Propositions 39's main legislative backer, responded that it's too early to gauge the outcome of the clean energy job fund since it only got underway in earnest last year because of the need to set up rules and procedures. Also, many of the projects will take more than one year to complete. And in some cases, school districts may be saving up various grants to bundle them for larger projects down the road.

The concerns raised in the AP story have prompted some legislators to call for a full accounting of the fund. Senate Minority Leader Robert Huff (R-Diamond Bar) has asked for legislative oversight hearings, which De Leon would have to approve. That might not be a bad way to catch up with the long-overdue oversight.

But it can't replace the Proposition 39-prescribed citizens board, which is scheduled to meet for the first time in September. It's shameful that this board has taken so long to convene.

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