The budget proposes to increase state funding for the California Sea Grant Program from $430,000 to $1.1 million (an increase of $681,000). We recommend that the Legislature deny this augmentation because, without a mandated report which has not been provided, the Legislature is unable to determine the appropriate funding level for this program.
Background. The California Sea Grant Program leverages federal money to fund coastal and ocean research. The University of California and the University of Southern California administer the program. Research priorities are set by the Resources Agency Sea Grant Advisory Panel (RASGAP), which comprises representatives from the Resources Agency, relevant state departments, the Legislature, and affected marine industries. The RASGAP also monitors the research projects and annually submits research needs and priorities to the Legislature.
Over the past decade, annual state funding for the program has ranged between $400,000 and $500,000. Most of this money comes from the General Fund, and approximately $100,000 per year has come from the Environmental License Plate Fund (ELPF). The ELPF funding is used for the program's administrative costs. The General Fund money leverages federal funding from the National Sea Grant College Program. According to the Resources Agency, the program currently receives about $5 million in matching funds.
State Grant Funds to Be Tripled. The budget proposes to increase total program funding from $430,000 to $1.1 million. The proposal represents a tripling of the amount of General Fund money dedicated to grants, from $319,000 to $1 million, while administrative costs (funded from ELPF) will remain approximately the same as provided in recent years. While the Resources Agency notes that the buying power of dollars has eroded due to inflation over the past decades, it provides no justification for an increase of this magnitude at this particular time.
Report Not Provided. Chapter 293, Statutes of 1997 (SB 271, Thompson) required, among other provisions, that the Secretary for Resources submit, by January 1, 1998, a report on the Sea Grant program. The report was to (1) evaluate the program, (2) provide recommendations from the Secretary and other stakeholders concerning the benefits the program provides the state, and (3) recommend whether appropriations should be continued at similar levels.
The Secretary never submitted the required report. Had it been submitted, the Legislature would have had the opportunity to consider the need for changes to funding levels in light of relevant information such as the benefits provided to the general public, the interests of stakeholders, and a programmatic evaluation.
We believe that an augmentation of the proposed magnitude is tantamount to a substantive policy change. We further believe that, by passing Chapter 293, the Legislature expressed its intention to evaluate the funding level for the Sea Grant program using particular information. Since the Legislature did not receive this information, we believe the proposed augmentation is not warranted. Accordingly, we recommend that Item 3110-101-0001 be reduced by $681,000.