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State redevelopment agencies might really be goners

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Hours before the Wednesday midnight deadline for passing a state budget, legislative Democrats rammed through a ridiculous, gimmick-laden, majority-vote spending plan that failed to reform anything and failed to impress Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed it less than a day later.

The budget succeeded mainly in one area: ensuring the legislators would continue to get their paychecks, given that an initiative passed by voters last year, Proposition 25, would have permanently denied them their pay for every day after a missed budget deadline.

Brown might do another good thing that would give California property owners reason to celebrate: sign the trailer bills that would eliminate the state’s noxious redevelopment agencies. There’s been debate in the Capitol about whether his budget veto affects the redevelopment trailer bills, but the latest information from Assembly Republicans is that they can be signed or vetoed separately.

Previous efforts to kill these local central planning fiefdoms — which run up debt, divert existing tax dollars from traditional public services such as schools and public safety, abuse eminent domain and dole out subsidies to politically savvy developers — failed after Republicans rallied to save the agencies, their free- market rhetoric notwithstanding. But on Wednesday, the Legislature voted to end its reign of terror, with a handful of Republicans joining Democrats in doing the right thing.

Past efforts to kill redevelopment failed when the bill required a two-thirds majority vote, but on Wednesday a version stripped of its appropriations provisions came before both houses of the Legislature for a simple majority vote. AB26x would “dissolve all redevelopment agencies and community development agencies in existence and designate successor agencies.” A companion bill, AB27x, was a sop to weak-in-the-knees Democrats afraid to kill these agencies outright. It allows the agencies to come back into existence provided they pay a large portion of the revenues they collect to schools, fire protection agencies and other agencies from which they divert funds. That’s problematic, but as news reports suggest, city officials don’t think they have the cash to allow their agencies to rise again like those zombies in a cheap horror flick.

Oddly enough, Republicans were the biggest obstacle to their elimination. They found various reasons to support them, ranging from the desire not to give Gov. Jerry Brown any sort of budget victory to the oft-stated claim that redevelopment at least keeps the money in the hands of cities rather than in Sacramento. In reality, many Republican legislators are more interested in being pro-business than pro-freedom.

Obviously, Democrats didn’t vote to shut down redevelopment agencies for the right reasons. They don’t mind central planning and subsidies.

If they didn’t like those things, they wouldn’t be Democrats. They were looking for cash to close the budget hole. But who cares?

Principled politicians find allies wherever they can find them, even if such alliances are fleeting. There were some genuine heroes. Sen. Ted Gaines of Roseville was the only Republican to vote to end the agencies in the Senate, thus providing the swing vote. His wife, Beth, a newly elected Assemblywoman, joined Chris Norby of Fullerton, Jim Nielsen of Gerber, Dan Logue of Linda and Allan Mansoor of Costa Mesa in voting to kill these agencies. This redevelopment vote separates the Republicans In Rhetoric Only from the real ones, so note the small size of the Republican list.

However this plays out, redevelopment is on the ropes. That is a reason to celebrate.

Steven Greenhut is editor of www.calwatchdog.com; write to him at sgreenhut@calwatchdog.com.