Another Green Jobs Boondoggle Fails to Create Jobs

Published August 21, 2015

An investigative review conducted by the Associated Press (AP) of the impact of California’s voter passed ballot measure, Proposition 39, to create green jobs has found three years after passage, just five percent of the promised jobs have been created and the state has no good idea how the millions of dollars flowing from the initiative have been spent or how much energy has been saved.

In 2012, by a wide margin, voters approved the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The proposition closed a tax loophole for multistate corporations raising hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue. The legislature dedicated half of the revenue to funding clean energy projects in schools, promising to generate more than 11,000 jobs each year. The AP analysis found, revenue has been far less than projected and only 1,700 jobs in total have been created in three years since passage. 

‘Troubling’ Lack of Oversight

Accountability for spending under the law has been poor with more than half of the $297 million given to schools going to “consultants and energy auditors.” 

The board created to oversee projects and submit annual progress reports to the Legislature has yet to meet. According to the AP, the State Energy Commission, with oversight responsibility for Proposition 39 spending, was unable to provide any data about completed projects or calculate energy savings.

The lack of oversight is troubling even by usual government loose accountability standards according to Douglas Johnson, a state government expert at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. Johnson told the AP, “Accountability boards that are rubber stamps are fairly common, but accountability boards that don’t meet at all are a big problem.” 

The AP’s review of state and local records was unable to identify a single completed project in the entire Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), despite the state allocating $12.6 million to the nearly 1,000 school district. Two schools were scheduled to receive lighting retrofits and heating and cooling upgrades this summer, yet with the school year about to commence, no construction work has been done at either school. 

The office of Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), the primary booster of proposition 39, previously estimated LAUSD would save up to $27 million a year on energy costs. The AP’s research shows no savings have been experienced thus far, and projects proposed by the district would save only $1.4 million. 

Millions in Revenue Shortfalls

Proponents such as de Leon and billionaire investor and philanthropist Tom Steyer, who personally funded the ballot measure with $30 million, told voters it would send up to $550 million annually to the Clean Jobs Energy Fund. The actual revenue has been far less, at just $381 million in 2013, $279 million in 2014 and $313 million in 2015.

Steyer’s office declined to make him available for an interview or to comment on the lower revenue figures as his spokespersons sought to distance Steyer from the measure’s implementation. 

A nonpartisan legislative analyst Ken Kapphahn said the tax code change affected a relatively small number of companies, most of which likely found ways to minimize their tax burden. 

Kirk Clark, vice president of the California Business Roundtable found the AP’s analysis unsurprising, saying, “We’ve got a long track record in California of over-promising green jobs and under-delivering.” Clark expressed concern about both the disappointing number of jobs created and the fact of the few jobs created so far most appear to be consultants. 

Neither the state Energy Commission nor the California Workforce Investment Board, could identify the types of jobs created by Proposition 39 projects.

Johnson argued the oversight board should have been intimately involved in the oversight of the project from the beginning. “They should have been overseeing all stages of this project, not just waiting until the money’s gone and seeing where it went,” Johnson tols the AP.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.