Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun
Published 2:41 p.m. PT March 8, 2018 | Updated 3:55 p.m. PT March 8, 2018

State Assemblymember Chad Mayes is suing California over a ballot measure that could help Republican lawmakers influence how the state spends its climate change funds, claiming that misleading language written by the state’s Democratic attorney general will confuse voters so they oppose the measure in June.

Proposition 70 stems from a hard-fought deal between Mayes and Gov. Jerry Brown last year. In exchange for Mayes delivering Republican votes to extend California’s cap-and-trade program, which puts a price on planet-warming emissions, Brown and Sacramento Democrats agreed to a statewide vote that could change how funds generated by the program are spent. If Prop 70 passes, the Legislature will be required to approve some of that spending in a two-thirds vote, rather than the majority vote that’s needed now.

The compromise was politically costly for Mayes, who represents parts of the Coachella Valley and the High Desert, including Palm Springs. He faced intense criticism from conservatives and was forced to step down as leader of the Assembly Republicans.

Now, Mayes says the deal that cost him his leadership post is being undermined by the California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra.

In a lawsuit filed in state court in Sacramento this week, Mayes accused Becerra of describing Proposition 70 in a way that will mislead people into voting against it. The voter information guide written by the attorney general gives the following title for Prop 70: “Limits Legislature’s authority to use cap-and-trade revenue to reduce pollution.”

That’s false, Mayes says in his lawsuit: The ballot measure would do nothing to limit the Legislature’s authority, and money generated by the climate program would still be spent on projects that reduce pollution. All Prop 70 would do is change the voting threshold on some of those spending decisions from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority.

“The title drafted by the Attorney general falsely and misleadingly implies the Legislature is somehow ‘limited’ from using those funds to pay for programs to reduce pollution or greenhouse gas emissions,” the lawsuit states.

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While Mayes has framed Proposition 70 as a significant concession, some conservative activists disagree. Even if the ballot measure passes, all money generated by cap-and-trade auctions from now until 2024 can still be spent by majority vote of the Legislature. And after a one-time, two-thirds vote on how to spend the funds that start accumulating in 2024, lawmakers would go back to allocating cap-and-trade funds by majority rule.

Even the one-time vote might not do much for Republicans. Democrats won two-thirds supermajorities in both houses in 2016, and they may still have those margins in 2024.

Joseph Turner — a conservative activist who helped lead the backlash against Mayes over his cap-and-trade deal, and who at one point threatened to protest the Yucca Valley church where Mayes’ father preaches — ridiculed Prop 70 in a blog post this week. Turner wrote that the ballot measure “was touted as some grand achievement that was going to kill high speed rail and place some checks on those crazy Democrats. Activists like myself saw through the smokescreen and eviscerated this talking point.”

“There isn’t even a guarantee that Republicans will even have one third of the seats in either chamber come 2024,” Turner wrote. “Is it possible that Mayes, in his haste to be the Republican standing up at the podium with Governor Moonbeam got burned and sold a bill of goods by the Democrats?”

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