Politics & Government

Central California lawmakers stick to their guns in bailout

WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley lawmakers Friday stuck to their previous positions on a financial bailout package whose specific benefits to California residents are still being tallied.

The bill is a grab bag. Altamont Pass wind power operators will retain tax credits. University of California at Davis biofuel research gets an indirect boost. The state's rural counties secure more money for schools and roads.

"The secure rural schools funding is obviously important to us," noted Spencer Pederson, press secretary for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.

Radanovich joined Democratic Reps. Dennis Cardoza of Merced, Jim Costa of Fresno and Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton in supporting the bailout bill. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia opposed it. The supporters called the bill unpleasant but necessary to buck up the nation's reeling economy, with Costa saying that "while no one can guarantee the success of this proposal, doing nothing is not an option."

Opponents called the legislation an ill-considered intervention in the free market and blamed congressional leaders for fomenting panic.

"Handing over $700 billion to the secretary of the treasury is not the best way to accomplish this goal" of financial recovery, Nunes said. "The most effective way to shore up our banks is to have the Federal Reserve work with struggling institutions and to infuse them with cash."

The bill offers modest Treasury Department assistance to the Valley's financially distressed homeowners. This could aid some of the owners of 35,252 homes and condos between Stockton and Bakersfield who received mortgage default notices between January and June, according to DataQuick figures.

The Treasury Department can use "loan guarantees and credit enhancements" that might ease mortgage burdens and prevent foreclosures. Treasury officials are also directed to accept "reasonable requests" for mortgage modifications, including extending terms and lowering rates.

The underlying $700 billion financial bailout package itself will ripple through the Valley, which by some counts has led the nation in home foreclosures. The Treasury Department will use the money to buy up bundles of bad mortgages, the kind that contributed to more than 110,000 California homes being lost to foreclosure this year.

On top of the financial bailout, the Senate added hundreds of pages of unrelated provisions designed, in part, to secure additional votes. Some hit home directly.

The Turlock-based JKB Solar, for instance, is among those foreseeing benefits from a solar energy tax extension. A company official was among those contacting Radanovich's office in support of the bill, Pederson said.

Similarly, the bailout package adds "cellulosic biofuels" to an ethanol tax credit. The firm Pacific Ethanol, which operates a plant in Madera, was already lobbying for the ethanol tax credit. The cellulosic addition could spur further interest in switchgrass, one of the plants U.C. Davis scientists are now studying as a fuel source.

Myriad tax provisions totaling some $150 billion had been stalled on Capitol Hill, awaiting a legislative vehicle that could carry them to passage. The rural county funding package added by the Senate had likewise been stymied until the bailout package arrived.

"This turned out to be the only way Congress could finally get it done," noted Bob Douglass, a former Tehama County school superintendent who has led the rural schools lobbying effort. "As they say in basketball and football, a win is a win."

The rural county funding measure provides $1.1 billion over four years to counties that contain national forest land. The funding, totaling some $69 million annually for California, props up counties that can no longer rely on their share of timber harvests.

Last year, the program provided about $2.8 million to Fresno County, $1.1 million to Madera County, $1.1 million to Tulare County and $1.1 million to Tuolumne County. The bill continues federal funding, though at a slowly declining rate.

The word "California" itself appears only a few times in the lengthy bill. One provision provides tax credits of up to $15,000 for electric vehicles that, among other things, meets California's emission standards.