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New legislation would boost funding for local, state fairs
Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil, who has introduced legislation designed to benefit state and local fairs, is shown at the El Dorado County Fair in 2023. Photo Contributed

Earlier this month, Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil (D-Jackson) introduced SB 1261 to increase funding and support for local and state fairs. California is home to 78 fairs, including 23 county fairs, two citrus fruit fairs, and the California Exposition and State Fair (Cal Expo).

The network of California fairs is composed of district agricultural associations (DAA), and for more than 70 years, the source of state funding for California fairs depended on horse racing licensing fees. In 2012, DAAs were expected to become self-sufficient as a result of the dwindling state budget for fiscal year 2011-2012. To address this issue, in 2017, the Legislature passed AB 1499, which directed the governor’s budget to allocate three-quarters of a percent of the gross sales made on fairgrounds to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). The CDFA would then transfer the generated revenue to the Fairs and Exposition Fund.

“By increasing the percentage of CDFA’s budget that is allocated to fairs, SB 1261 will directly support the essential funding required for operational necessities and addressing critical issues like deferred maintenance and emergency preparedness within our fairs,” said Senator Alvarado-Gil.

“We are in full support of Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil’s efforts to help California’s Fairgrounds help themselves. SB 1261 will increase the percentage of revenue annually reinvested in the Network. This increase will ensure our Fairgrounds remain viable and facilitate much needed improvements,” said Sarah Cummings, President and CEO of the Western Fairs Association.

Fairgrounds don’t just serve as entertainment venues and a gathering point for community events – they play a vital role during natural disasters and emergencies by providing the State Office of Emergency Services and other state and federal partners a centralized location to operate, to ensure the safety of citizens and first responders during critical incidents. By capping the cost of administering the allocation of these funds to fairs, SB 1261 would ensure those costs will not reduce the amount of sales tax revenue intended for DAAs.

“California’s fairgrounds operate year-round, and we are consistently called upon to assist our federal, state and local governments when disaster hits. Every time, we answer the call. SB 1261 would provide a stable funding source to ensure our fairgrounds continue to serve our first responders when our communities need them the most,” said Michele Richards, Chair of the California Fairs Alliance.

The bill will be referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee for review.