The Crystal Ball on 2016: New Year, New Legislative Session
Anticipate, predict, resolve — that’s what we do for sport in January; that and watch playoff games.
So, let’s play the game as it pertains to government and politics.
First, what to anticipate and predict? If El Niño arrives and the state receives appreciable rain and snow by mid-February, we can expect the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to extend the current drought emergency through Oct. 31, albeit with an aggregate urban conservation goal considerably less ambitious than the 25 percent mandate currently in effect.
We can also expect that the SWRCB will take specific local circumstances as well as past conservation into consideration when issuing those extension protocols. If El Niño fails to materialize, well, strap yourselves in for a bumpy ride; expect that 25 percent mandate to be ratcheted up considerably and expect the golf industry to be confronted with challenges much greater than the ones we faced in 2015.
On the legislative front, we can expect zero interest in pursuing service taxes but intense interest in raising the minimum wage. A combination of Proposition 30 temporary tax increases, uncharacteristic fiscal discipline and an expanding economy has yielded a state surplus anticipated to reach $11 billion by 2017, enough to balance California’s budget for two years of recession — not the context conducive of a major overhaul of the state’s tax structure. The industry must remain mindful that the day for reforming the state’s hyper-volatile tax structure will indeed come and with it renewed interest in a service tax; it just won’t come now.
What will come now is intense focus on California’s minimum wage. SB 3 (Leno; D-San Francisco) passed comfortably in the Upper Chamber last year but languished in the Assembly Appropriations Committee when the Governor’s Finance Office issued a scathing report concerning its impact upon the state’s balance sheet. That Bill comes back in 2016. In addition, once a minimum wage Initiative sponsored by organized labor secures sufficient signatures to qualify for the November ballot, new state rules require the legislature to hold hearings to determine if the issues raised in the Initiative can be resolved through the legislative process.
As for predicting what might come of the minimum wage debate, I’ll venture one, but only if everyone promises not to remind me of it later. The pressure to do something measurable is intense, but what makes sense in high cost of living, economically dynamic locales such as San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles makes no sense whatsoever in San Bernardino, Bakersfield, Fresno, Stockton or Visalia.
Expect a regionally based structure imposed on a statewide basis in an effort to obviate the unfolding ad hoc processes already underway in the state’s big cities. But make no mistake about it; the ultimate wage may not reach $15 in many locales, but it will be higher in every locale than it is now.
2016 will be the year that California creates the structures needed to effectively regulate groundwater extraction. The days of dipping one’s straw into the ground you own with zero interference from your neighbors and no oversight by regulators are coming to an end, although there may be considerable litigation that attends the process before the old days are completely ushered out.
By March 31 the state will have been divided into sanctioned “Groundwater Sustainability Agencies” (GSA’s) tasked with adopting “Groundwater Sustainability Plans” (GSP’s) by dates certain, with earlier adoption dates for those groundwater basins deemed “aggrieved” than for those deemed less in need of remediation.
Expect 2016 to also be a year in which Sacramento focuses intensely on funding and otherwise promoting post-reservoir modes of water storage and long-term sustainability — storm water capture, aquifer recharge, non-potable reuse, potable reuse and new technologies to enable them. Pay close attention to SB 163 (Hertzberg; D-Van Nuys), a bill that would literally compel the expedition of all of the above by severely limiting the dumping of effluent and storm water into various bays called San Francisco, Monterey and Santa Monica.
As for what to “resolve?” Simply put, to keep doing what the industry has been doing but do it on a ramped-up basis; that is, secure as many stakeholder statuses with as many state agencies as will have us around their table (e.g., DWR and SWRCB), intervene in as many rule-making processes as pertain to any aspect of the golf business (e.g., “Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance”), engage with as many legislators as will listen to us, align with allied organizations, make common cause with similarly interested sectors (e.g., landscape architects), and above all else, continue to build a statewide advocacy alliance (CAG) that can distill the industry’s interests into a coherent message and then convey it to the powers that be.