Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters this morning that he's not closing the door on pleas to postpone the dissolution of local redevelopment agencies.
But let's admit it: the door is on one of those automatic arms that closes by itself, and Steinberg isn't jumping up to prop it open.
As such, the conversation inside the state Capitol is likely soon to turn to what California's post-redevelopment world will look like... and Steinberg is cooking up an interesting idea.
Last month's California Supreme Court ruling means the life support for more than 400 local RDAs gets unplugged on February 2. The case, as was widely reported, was really a high stakes gamble to undo the 2011 budget provision that would have allowed allowing redevelopment agencies to only stay alive through an expanded sharing of property tax dollars with schools and counties.
Now, left with only extinction, RDA supporters are pleading for help. This morning, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-LA) said that he's introducing a bill to delay the closing the door on RDAs for more than two months, and similar rumblings were heard last week.
But the leader of Padilla's Democratic caucus seems to be already -- politely -- saying no.
"It's problematic," said Senate leader Steinberg of Padilla's proposal during a wide-ranging chat with reporters. In particular, he said that a delay of RDA shutdowns would mean local schools would miss out on a portion of property taxes that will be redirected from the shuttered agencies.
The Senate pro Tem said, though, that protecting one function of RDAs is likely to get support: affordable housing. Steinberg has a bill to allow dollars already earmarked for low and moderate income housing, perhaps as much as $2 billion, to remain in place.
But on the broader issue, he suggested it's time to think differently about local economic development, echoing a point made by Assembly Speaker John Perez in an interview last week.
Steinberg's idea is one that would combine two of his long-sought changes to local communities: more regional tax sharing and more "sustainable" development.
A decade ago, then Assemblymember Steinberg pushed legislation to require sales tax sharing between governments in the Sacramento region -- a pilot program of sorts to keep cash-starved local governments from battling over projects like big box stores. AB 680 ultimately died without a final vote.
In 2008, the Sacramento Democrat had better luck with a different local development measure, SB 375. The legislation signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to (among other things) encourage local officials to stop suburban sprawl and make development plans that are, as the bill calls them, more "sustainable." Much of that law, most notably the greenhouse gas reduction element, is still in the process of being fully implemented.
So Steinberg's pitch seems to be this: if locals agree to more of these kinds of development and regional strategies, then they should get money from the liquidation of redevelopment agency assets --buildings, parking lots, you name it.
"I would be willing to offer that money back to local governments," Steinberg said, "if the local governments use those tools to promote economic development consistent with SB 375," and if they "adopted some real elements of fiscal reform," including sales tax sharing similar to his 2001 plan in AB 680.
The Senate leader admitted today that his plan isn't fully cooked. He says his staff is still researching the statewide dollar value of those RDA assets, but believes it's significant. He's also unsure whether the cash would be collected in one statewide pot and divvied up, or remain in the communities in which the RDAs used to exist.
Locals may balk at parts of the plan and, as with so many things, challenge its validity in court. But there seem to be two big takeaways from both today's chat with Senate pro Tem Steinberg and last week's chat with Assembly Speaker Perez.
The first is how much longer the Capitol discussion can remain focused on keeping RDAs alive. Leaders in cities across the state -- Los Angeles, Oakland and Santa Rosa but to name a few -- are all starting to comply with the RDA shutdown and time is running out.
But secondly, and probably more importantly, can consensus in Sacramento be reached on a post-redevelopment proposal? There's still a lot of acrimony from the way the RDA fight went down, and it's merely the latest chapter in years of fighting between local and state forces about a dwindling supply of tax dollars and how to spend them.
This time, the upper hand would seem to be held by the Legislature. No longer is it a debate about what cities and other local entities will allow Sacramento officials to do. Now, a major use of tax dollars will be scrapped -- and the door will be closed -- all on its own. And locals likely can only open that door back up with the Legislature's permission.
As Senator Steinberg put it this morning, "the power dynamic has changed here."