Money from the sale of carbon pollution permits goes to a fund for programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The cap and trade program is relatively new; it's only raised about $250 million so far.
But Governor Brown's budget proposal would borrow a half billion dollars of expected revenues for the general fund.
Vien Truong with the Greenlining Institute says environmental advocates are angry.
She says that money could be used for clean air programs in low-income communities.
"We thought we were moving in the right direction," says Truong. "We had a lot of people turn out at the hearings to say what the funds should be invested in. We had a lot of support and positive response from the administration. And we feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath us."
Rico Mastrodonato with the Trust for Public Land told lawmakers during a Senate Budget Subcommittee hearing that the money needs to be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"There is a climate crisis, there's no question about that," says Mastrodonato. "We're all in agreement that there are projects, "no-regret" investments, that could be made right now, and that's exactly what we should be doing to address our global warming situation."
But Governor Jerry Brown's administration says the money is a loan and will be paid back to the fund with interest once programs are in place.
The Senate Budget Subcommittee did not take a vote on the proposal.