Thursday, October 12, 2006

California Bond Measures

California Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, and 1E: bond measures

No on 1A (Transportation Funding: Legislative Constitutional Amendment*)
Yes on 1B (Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, Port Security)
Yes on 1C (Housing and Emergency Shelter)
Yes on 1D (Public Education Facilities)
Yes on 1E (Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention)
* Prop 1A is only a constitutional amendment, not a bond measure

Read more...Prop 1A: Transportation Funding Protection. Not actually a bond measure but a Constitutional Amendment. In 2002, voters approved Prop 42, requiring the state of California to use most gasoline tax revenues for transportation. However, there was an emergency escape clause allowing 2/3 of the legislature plus the governor to suspend that requirement, provided they commit to repaying the lost revenue in future years. Prop 1A would make it more difficult to borrow from the gas tax in a budget crisis, meaning that we would have to slash education, public health, and law enforcement in order to maintain our priority on building freeways. We need to put much more attention and much more money into our transportation system — not just building ever more freeways, but also emphasizing public transit. However, we should not lock that priority into the state constitution. We should elect legislators with the political will to prioritize spending and raise the revenue to pay for it.

Bond measures mean !!FREE MONEY!! — just like a credit card! You get to go shopping and never actually pay for anything. ... Oh, wait a second; do I have that right?

Issuing a bond is borrowing money, to be repaid double over the next 30 years or so. If the bond's purpose doesn't qualify for federal tax exemption, the repayment is even more than double. Bonds make sense for building things that will benefit the community for decades to come: roads, schools, and hospitals, but not salaries, routine maintenance, or short-term projects. The other catch is that arguments in favor of bond measures invariably proclaim that they will not raise your taxes. That's technically true, but deeply misleading. Repaying bonds is by law irrevocably the absolute first priority of the state budget, even before paying for education, hospitals, police, firefighters, or earthquake retrofits. The bonds on this November's ballot total $42.7 billion, which would cost about $2.8 billion per year over the life of the bonds. That's $2.8 billion skimmed right off the top of the state budget, not available for anything else, no matter what. That's not to say that we shouldn't approve the bond measures, but only that we need to be sure that they're worth the serious commitment involved for a full generation of Californians.

This year, in addition to one bond measure submitted by initiative (Prop 84), we have four bond measures submitted by the legislature. Because ballot measures from the legislature go first on the ballot, but the numbers had already been assigned for the initiatives, the legislature's bond measures are numbered 1B through 1E. Taken together, they form "The Rebuild California Plan." It is important to emphasize, though, that Prop 1A is a separate issue.

Prop 1B: Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act of 2006. $19.9 billion in bonds, costing a total of $38.9 billion over 30 years, to pay for increased capacity on state highways, upgrades on local transit and intercity rail service, air quality improvement projects, and safety and security projects on public transit, railroad crossings, highways, and ports. These items are all desperately needed to keep California's people and our economy moving. The counter-argument is that many of these projects ought to be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis; the problem is that we don't have the money, so we have to borrow it. Also, the federal Department of Homeland Security has proven that it is too busy worrying about things like popcorn factories in Indiana and detecting improvised explosive devices in Wyoming to bother with trivialities like security at the Port of Long Beach, where 40% of our nation's imports arrive.

Prop 1C: Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2006. $2.85 billion in bonds, costing a total of $6.1 billion over 30 years, to facilitate new housing in already-developed areas, encourage home ownership, build new apartments with some set aside for low-income tenants, and build shelters for battered women and homeless people. The cost of housing in California is ridiculous. The median price of a single-family dwelling in California is over $500,000. Here in San Francisco, rent for a studio apartment is well over $1,000/month, even if you're willing to live on top of a crack den. The focus on housing near existing transit hubs is especially important.

Prop 1D: Kindergarten—University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2006. $10.4 billion, costing a total of $20.3 billion over 30 years, to modernize existing schools, build new schools, relieve overcrowding, enhance vocational training, fund "green" environmental projects at school facilities, and improve facilities at our community colleges and state universities (both CSU and UC). Education is the engine that powers the economy, more than any other factor. Since 1978, California has let its top-notch educational system slide into the bottom tier. If we want a prosperous new century, we need to invest in education.

Prop 1E: Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention Bond Act of 2006. $4.1 billion, costing a total of $8 billion over 30 years, to rebuild the levees in the Central Valley, improve flood control in other areas, build bypasses to divert flood waters, and map out areas most vulnerable to flooding. The levees protect more than just the homes and farms along the rivers of the Central Valley: they also protect our drinking water supply. If the levees fail, 2/3 of California could be without clean drinking water. It ain't just in Nawlins that George Bush doesn't care about levees, so the state needs to step in. The opposition ballot argument is absolutely right that California needs to expand its water supply, but that need is in addition to, not in opposition to, the need to protect the existing supply.

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