Budget cuts likely to affect environmental programs, parks

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The governor's plans for the state budget close a gap of either 15 or 21 billion dollars - depending on the result of next Tuesday's election. California will cut some of that money from environment programs and emergency response fees. KPCC's Molly Peterson has more on what that means for parkgoers and property owners.

Molly Peterson: At the state resources agency, departments will do more with less – or will charge more for services. Resources deputy Michael Harris says California State Parks expect new income from that second strategy.

Michael Harris: Wne is we would be targeting some small fee increases at very popular high-demand parks. The second would be to look at areas where we have not traditionally charged fees in the past.

Peterson: Harris says that means people would pay to park in Old Town San Diego, and fork over new admission fees in some Northern California spots. Budget officials figure that new hikes can squeeze out only another 5-and-a-half million dollars a year.

Harris: The prime criterion in addition to meeting our obligation to the state's budget is to ensure that we don't unnecessarily affect our attendance and keep our parks open for people.

Peterson: Oil fields off Santa Barbara's coast might also be opened to boost royalty revenue by nearly $2 billion over 14 years. The company Plains Exploration had proposed drilling in state waters at Tranquillion Ridge after it worked out environmental concessions from local activists.

The project died in January at the State Lands Commission. But Resources Agency Secretary Mike Chrisman says he believes the legislature can resurrect it now.

Mike Chrisman: It's not a new technology. It's drilling, extracting oil from a platform that's already existing. So there's an awful lot of folks in that part of the world [that] did a lot of work putting together this agreement, and we support it, the governor supports it, it's back in the budget.

Peterson: The budget for emergency services relies on property owners to pay for a new multimillion-dollar initiative. Matthew Bettenhausen, chief of the state's Emergency Management Agency, says a surcharge on insurance policies would help to cover emergency response at the state and local levels.

Matthew Bettenhausen: This is not just about wildfires in rural areas or in the urban rural interface. This is about what could be happening in our major cities and the ability to respond to an earthquake, a fire, a flood. To build these capabilities up. Everybody needs to pay into this because everybody is going to benefit.

Peterson: The insurance policy charge would net just under half-a-billion dollars in its first full year. State fire officials say that would keep a fourth firefighter on trucks, and would keep dozens of fire stations, camps, and an air support base open. Bettenhausen says that even the higher version of the fee will cost each homeowner 50 bucks – or less.

Bettenhausen: Ultimately, in a competitive insurance environment, our ability to respond quickly and effectively should reduce the loss rates here in California, and in the long run, a reduction in insurance rates.

Peterson: It's still not clear how and when this could happen. The state's finance experts are figuring out the details of these and other agencies' budgets – and they will be long after Tuesday's election clears up the size of the state's deficit.