California lawmakers from both parties are calling for more stringent oversight of a clean jobs initiative after an Associated Press report found that a fraction of the promised jobs have been created.
The report also found that the state has no comprehensive list to show much work has been done or energy saved, three years after voters approved a ballot measure to raise taxes on corporations and generate clean-energy jobs.
"It's clear to me that the Legislature should immediately hold oversight hearings to get to the bottom of why yet another promise to the voters has been broken," Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, said in a news released Monday.
The AP reported that three years after voters passed Proposition 39, money is trickling in at a slower-than-anticipated rate, and more than half of the $297 million given to schools so far has gone to consultants and energy auditors. The board created to oversee the project and submit annual progress reports to the Legislature has never met.
Voters in 2012 approved the Clean Energy Jobs Act by a large margin, closing a tax loophole for multistate corporations. The Legislature decided to send half the money to fund clean energy projects in schools, promising to generate more than 11,000 jobs each year.
Instead, only 1,700 jobs have been created in three years, raising concerns about whether the money is accomplishing what voters were promised.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, the Los Angeles Democrat who was the primary booster of Proposition 39 and its implementation in the state Legislature, said Monday that the measure is already successful, and said it is too soon to assess its effectiveness.
"Most school districts are either in the planning phase or are preparing to launch large-scale, intensive retrofit projects that will maximize benefits to students, school sites and the California economy," de Leon said in a joint statement with the initiative's chief supporter, billionaire investor and philanthropist Tom Steyer, who funded the initiative campaign with $30 million of his own money.
"We have every confidence that, as more projects break ground and come on line, Californians in every region of the state will increasingly realize the full benefits of improvements that make schools stronger and more energy-efficient," they said.
But other Democrats said the report raised concerns.
"We should hold some oversight hearings to see how the money is being spent, where it is being spent and seeing if Prop. 39 is fulfilling the promise that it said it would," said Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno.
Republican lawmakers sought to present Proposition 39 as a cautionary tale for other proposals as Democrats push bills to further limit greenhouse gas emissions.
"Where's the oversight? We are talking about giving away a whole lot of power to unelected bureaucracies," said Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher of Nicolaus.
The State Energy Commission, which oversees Proposition 39 spending, could not provide any data about completed projects or calculate energy savings because schools are not required to report the results for up to 15 months after completion, spokeswoman Amber Beck said.
Still, Beck said she believes the program is on track. The commission estimates that based on proposals approved so far, Proposition 39 should generate an estimated $25 million a year in energy savings for schools.
Not enough data has been collected for the nine-member oversight board of professors, engineers and climate experts to meet, she said.
Among the planned projects are $12.6 million in work in the Los Angeles Unified School District, that would save $1.4 million a year in energy costs. Two schools were scheduled this summer to receive lighting retrofits and heating and cooling upgrades, but no construction work has been done on either site, LAUSD spokeswoman Barbara Jones said.
School district officials around the state say they intend to meet a 2018 deadline to request funds and a 2020 deadline to complete projects. They say the money will go to major, long-needed projects and are unconcerned schools have applied for only half of the $973 million available so far, or that $153 million of the $297 million given to schools has gone for energy planning by consultants and auditors.
"If there's money out there, we're going for it," said Tom Wright, an energy manager for the San Diego Unified School District, which has received $9.5 million of its available $9.7 million.
Leftover money would return to the general fund for unrestricted projects of lawmakers' choosing.
The proposition is also bringing in millions less each year than initially projected. Proponents told voters in 2012 that it would send up to $550 million annually to the Clean Jobs Energy Fund. But it brought in just $381 million in 2013, $279 million in 2014 and $313 million in 2015.
There's no exact way to track how corporations reacted to the tax code change, but it's likely most companies adapted to minimize their tax burdens, nonpartisan legislative analyst Ken Kapphahn said. He also said the change applies to a very small number of corporations.
Neither the Energy Commission nor Tim Rainey, director of the California Workforce Investment Board, could identify the types of jobs created by Proposition 39 projects. They said that information would be available when the oversight board meets for the first time, likely in October or November.
Schools often prioritize lighting projects because they work well with the Energy Commission's formula, which requires schools to save at least $1.05 on energy costs for every dollar spent.
Douglas Johnson, a state government expert at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, said the slow results show the oversight board should have gotten involved much earlier.
"They should have been overseeing all stages of this project, not just waiting until the money's gone and seeing where it went," Johnson said.