Prop 68’s Passage Could Mean Christmas Comes Again for Sacramento’s Spending Lobby

Our mailboxes and social media feeds are literally overflowing with campaign advertisements these days.  We review the propositions on our June primary preview on PRI’s podcast.

Counting up political mailings that I’ve received over the past week, I’ve gotten the most postcards in support of Proposition 68.

What is Proposition 68, you ask?  According to the official state voter guide, it would authorize $4 billion in general obligation bonds for the “creation of rehabilitation of state and local parks, natural resources protection projects, climate adaptation projects, water quality and supply projects, and flood protection projects.”

But, can we really trust that the money that Prop 68 would authorize will be spent on these projects?  Recent history suggests no.

Take the 2014 water bond measure, for example.  Following hard-fought negotiations, that bond included $2.7 billion in funding for above-ground water storage.

Former Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, who was one of the prime architects of the 2014 water bond, told us recently on PRI’s podcast that lawmakers and interested parties knew at the time that the $2.7 billion in water storage funding was to be divided primarily between 2 projects – Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat.

Conway said, “believe it or not, in the end of those negotiations, there was direct intent.  Direct conversation with the Governor.  Everyone knew there was money put aside.”

However, when the California Water Commission met earlier this month to appropriate funding for these projects, the Sites Reservoir project was deemed eligible for just $1 billion in funding – and may not get that much.  Worse, the Temperance Flat project was deemed eligible for just $171 million.

She says that outraged Californians “need to be critical of those that are holding up the intent of the water bond, because the intent was there.”

If a water bond measure approved just 4 years ago – and with clear intent – is not being spent how the Legislature and the voters wanted, it’s a fair to surmise that the funds Prop 68 would authorize won’t be spent as promised either.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s office notes that voters have authorized $27 billion in general obligation bonds for a host of environmental purposes since 2000.  Judging by the poor conditions of our parks, inadequate water conveyance systems, and lack of water storage, it’s clear that Californians haven’t gotten their money’s worth for their investment.

Voters should also rightfully scrutinize the overall cost of the measure.  Prop. 68 authorizes a $4 billion bond measure, but taxpayers would be paying double that cost – $8 billion – over 40 years to pay back the bond’s cost with interest.

At a time when the state has yet another significant budget surplus, is it too much to ask Sacramento to use some of this one-time money to pay for some of the state’s critical water and environmental needs?  Apparently, yes, which is why we’re having to vote on Prop. 68 in the first place.

Tim Anaya is communications director for the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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