It seemed just a bit odd when Jerry Brown, elected to his second go-’round as governor on a strong environmental program, almost immediately abandoned this state’s least expensive and most productive clean-air and environmental preservation law.
Well, OK, he didn’t completely ax the Williamson Act, a 1965 law that assures 15 million acres of open California land will not be built over for at least 20 years. Nope, he left $1,000 in the program, just like predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger did the previous year.
Under the Williamson Act, named for former Republican state legislator John Williamson, who thought up the idea in the 1960s, farmers can get property tax exemptions if they commit to keeping their fields and ranges in agricultural use. Most contracts run for 15 or 20 years.
In exchange for the property tax revenues they lose, the 53 participating counties were long given state funds. This came to about $37 million at its peak in 2005, even then a mere drop in the state budget bucket. But Schwarzenegger in 2007 started trying to cut Williamson Act funding, one small way to make up revenues lost when he lowered vehicle license fees upon taking office in 2003...