Governor approves $10 million for Williamson Act

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into a law a bill that puts $10 million of taxpayer money into the Williamson Act.

SB863, a trailer bill for the state budget finalized on Oct. 8, rewrites some redevelopment tax laws in addition to increasing funding for the popular farmland-preservation program.

Through the four-decade-old Williamson Act, the state compensates counties for much of the property-tax revenue they lose when they enter contracts with landowners to preserve farmland in exchange for lower tax assessments.

In signing a state budget in 2009, Schwarzenegger vetoed the subvention funding after the legislature sent him a budget he deemed too big.

When added to the estimated $20 million expected to return to county coffers because of a recent Williamson Act alteration, the bill is expected to restore nearly all of the reimbursements that counties have lost since last year.

The subvention fund has traditionally totaled $35 million annually, fed by the state's general fund. To help balance the budget, lawmakers last year reduced it to $28 million before Schwarzenegger slashed the fund, leaving $1,000 as a placeholder.

The new funding, and the recent alteration, are considered temporary measures while planners work to reduce the Williamson Act's reliance on the general fund.

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