Politics vs. clean air

More evidence of California's dysfunctional Legislature: A bill to raise vehicle registration fees to pay for cleaning up the Valley's dirty air enjoyed the rare combined support of environmentalists and farmers alike. The bill had bipartisan support in the Legislature.

The chairman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee said he agreed with the bill's goals. So he held it in committee, effectively killing it for this session of the Legislature.

Assembly Member Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, apparently was in a snit because several other bills have been held up in the Senate, including one of his own that would allow San Francisco to raise vehicle fees to support its general fund.

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, offered Senate Bill 240 and worked hard to win support. He got it after making several compromises with powerful interests, and was surprised when the bill stalled. Perhaps he shouldn't be. This is the California Legislature, after all.

Florez's bill would have added up to $30 a year to vehicle registrations in the Valley, with the money going to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The funds would have been spent on various clean-up programs in an effort to meet federal air quality standards in the Valley, the nation's most polluted air basin.

The air district hopes to raise $200 million for the programs, and the $78 million the added fee would have raised by 2010 would be a significant fraction of that total. The district was counting on that money. But nothing is ever easy in the state Legislature.

It's not over for SB240. Florez says he will bring the measure back next year. Citing the strong support for the bill, Florez hopes to give it an "urgency" tag, which would mean it could go into effect immediately upon passage by the Legislature and the governor's signature.

We hope that works. Cleaning up the Valley's foul air is an expensive undertaking. This bill spreads its portion of that financial burden evenly across every sector of the Valley. It's fair and it will be effective.

That's more than we can say about the political game playing that occupies so much time in Sacramento these days.