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State recycling funds raided; jobs vanish

November 30, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
California's budget problems are putting a dent in the state's recycling program. Recycling centers are closing after Sacramento raided bottle-deposit funds to pay other state bills. That means cutting jobs.Freddie Hunter was ready to recycle Monday, but was surprised to see his neighborhood depot has shut down. It's one of more than 600 convenience centers near supermarkets that have closed recently because the recycling fund, too broke to keep them open.

"I think it's terrible. I think something should be done about that," said Hunter. "Us poor people need every little penny we can get there."

Recyclers are suing state leaders because the politicians borrowed nearly a half-billion dollars over the years from the CRV (California Refund Value) Fund. Those unclaimed container deposits went to help balance the budget instead of helping recycling programs.

"When you borrow and you don't pay it back, when the program is in trouble, that's no longer a loan. That's basically stealing money from the recycling program," said Mark Murray, executive director, Californians Against Waste.

The recycling program doesn't just help the environment: it also keeps at-risk young adults out of trouble by giving them jobs.

Local conservation corps used to employ 4,000 people, who were typically high school dropouts or parolees. Without funding, almost 1,000 kids have already been laid off their "green" jobs.

Donta Washington really wants to stay in the program.

"I have big hopes and aspirations and everything like that. This job puts me on a straight path," said Washington, a California Conservation Corps member.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who touts himself as a "green" leader, vetoed a proposal a few weeks ago to increase the CRV because he didn't like it. He'll push lawmakers for a better bill.

"The governor is disappointed that we are in this situation, which is why he wants to move very quickly in January to get a fix in place to right size the fund," said H.D. Palmer, deputy director for external affairs, California Department of Finance.

That's a challenge task, considering the state is facing a $21 billion deficit.


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