Save the California Conservation Corps
That’s what the four governors who preceded Arnold Schwarzenegger — two Democrats and two Republicans — are urging the GOP governor to do.
Schwarzenegger’s budget released December 31 would eliminate the state conservation corps July 1, to save $17 million, a fraction of the state’s $42 billion budget shortfall. Its responsibilities would be transferred to local corps.
“The California Conservation Corps is one state agency that taxpayers should be proud to support,” the one page February 4 letter begins. “Despite very tough economic times, the CCC should not be eliminated.
“Save the CCC and allow it to continue its work for our youth and natural resources and for all Californians,” the letter concludes.
It is signed by GOP governors Pete WIlson and George Deukmejian as well as Democratic governors Gray Davis and Jerry Brown, who created the corps in 1976. It’s rare when the four agree.
Modeled after Franklin Roosevelt’s Great Depression Civilian Conservation Corps, the state corps offers minimum wage mostly outdoor work to youth ages 18 to 23. California’s 1,310 corps members break trails, fight fires and perform a variety of maintenance tasks for the state park system, Calftrains and other state departments.
“We have all seen firsthand CCC crews responding to floods, fires, earthquakes, oil spills and more. Crews are dispatched within hours and work long days until the job is done. After more than 30 years, the corps is embedded as one of California’s premier emergency response forces and one of the most cost-effective.”
Work done by the corps for other state agencies in 2008 saved taxpayers nearly $31 million, the governors say.
The California Conservation Corps Foundation argues, as the governors do, that eliminating the corps’ state funding would be costlier to taxpayers. Corps members logged 500,000 firefighting hours in 2008, the foundation says If that work were done by professional fire fighters the cost would have been $20 million.
Corps members provide more than 170,000 hours of free conservation work, saving taxpayers $2.4 million, according to the foundation. And without the corps, state parks would need $1.2 million more in trail construction funding.
The governors note that the CCC hires mostly unemployed youth who would otherwise be a financial burden to the state.
“In the corps, however, they develop solid skills and are motivated to pursue a career and an education. Their confidence skyrockets and most become contributing members of the state’s workforce.”
Schwarzenegger describes his proposal as a “realignment” of the state corps’ responsiblities to local corps.
“This proposal will provide additional support for the 12 certified nonprofit local conservation corps by eliminating the state-level Conservation Corps and increasing state grant funding to the local corps,” was the description in his budget proposal.
However the governors point out that the local corps don’t want to take on the state corps’ emergency response role and cannot afford to do so, even under the governor’s plan to send them $10 million for training.
Rather, they say with President Obama’s desire to create a “green corps” like Roosevelt’s CCC the state corps would be the perfect vehicle to do so and would likely receive additional federal funds.
The governors also invoke B.T. Collins who Brown named as director of the corps. Collins coined the corps’ motto — “Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions” — and turned the organization into a model used by other states.
Collins, who lost an arm and a leg in Vietnam by laying on a grenade, “poured his heart and soul into the program,” the governors write.
“Because of his devotion to the corps, both as director and beyond, the program has continued to thrive and has benefited the lives of more than 100,000 participants.”
The letter was CCd to the members of the Legislature and Schwarzenegger’s finance director, Mike Genest.
Filed under: Budget and Economy
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