Proposition 1A Does Nothing to “Rebuild” California

by Paul Hogarth on September 27, 2006

Governor Schwarzenegger and the Democratic legislature have placed five measures on the November ballot in an effort to rebuild California’s infrastructure (Propositions 1A-1E.) The measures are being sold together as a “package deal” to bring $37 billion for transportation, housing, education and flood prevention, and a joint campaign called “Rebuild California” is leading the charge. Schwarzenegger and Angelides support all five measures, as do Senators Feinstein and Boxer, the Chamber of Commerce, the Labor Federation, and the Teacher’s Union.

But a closer look at each of the five propositions shows that the first one — Proposition 1A — would do nothing to “rebuild” California, and is just another effort at ballot-box budgeting. Unlike the other four propositions (which are bond measures), Prop 1A would not bring the state a single dime. What it does is mandate that all revenue from the state’s gasoline sales tax go to transportation funding – and only transportation funding. By placing such a budgetary straight-jacket, Prop 1A will prevent the legislature from doing its job and divert funding away from worthy programs like education, housing and health care when the need is most dire and urgent.

Saying that gas tax revenue should only go to fund transportation is a very Republican idea. In fact, Republicans on Capitol Hill have argued for decades that the federal gas tax should only go to building highways. But restricting revenue from various sources to only fund various projects is unfair and shortsighted. As the Sacramento Bee put it in their editorial against Prop 1A, “California doesn’t earmark the sales tax on lumber to pay for public housing.”

What’s particularly insulting is that by far the largest bond measure in the same package – Proposition 1B – would fund $19.9 billion in transportation projects. If transportation already gets the lion share of the proposed bond revenue (at the expense of housing, education and flood prevention), why twist the knife even further by restricting how current tax revenue can be spent? In a cynical and deceptive effort to make voters think that the two measures offer something different, “Rebuild California” refers to Prop 1A on their website as “transportation” and Prop 1B as “traffic.”

Prop 1A was put into the “Rebuild California” package deal as a compromise so that Republicans would support the rest (bonds require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to be placed on the ballot.) And the rest has a lot to support. As I mentioned on Monday, Prop 1C would bring the state $2.85 billion for affordable housing projects – which is key to solving homelessness in California. Prop 1D would bring over $10 billion for K-12 education at a time when Prop 13 has castrated our school budgets. Prop 1E will bring over $4 billion in repairing levees in the Central Valley so that we don’t have another Katrina-like catastrophe. But now that each proposition is on the ballot, voters can cast an “up-or-down” vote on each one individually – regardless of any compromise reached.

Bonds have their own set of problems because unlike taxes, they need to be paid back with interest. But we weren’t going to get the legislature to approve taxes. Arnold Schwarzenegger has consistently
refused to support any tax increase whatsoever
in any way, shape or form. And Republicans in the legislature (who have enough votes to hold any budget hostage) have threatened to defeat any one of their own members for re-election if they dared vote for a single tax increase at all. Given that stark reality, bond measures for affordable housing, education and flood prevention was the best we could hope for.

With 13 state propositions, it’s going to be a crowded ballot. Voters will get confused, and it’s highly unlikely that they will simply approve all five measures in the package deal. Besides Propositions 1A-1E, there’s another bond measure for clean water (Prop 84), a tax on cigarettes (Prop 86), a tax on oil companies (Prop 87), and a regressive parcel tax to fund top-ranking schools (Prop 88). Because Prop 1A is the first one that voters will see, it’s probably the most likely to pass. Ironically, Prop 1C (the Affordable Housing Bond), which is the smallest bond on the ballot and would leave the state with the least amount of indebtedness, may have the most difficult chance of passage.

The California Democratic Party has endorsed Proposition 1A – along with the rest of the “Rebuild California” package. And that’s the cue it has sent to all progressive organizations. Local groups like the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, the Noe Valley Democratic Club and the San Francisco Young Democrats endorsed all five measures, probably without carefully distinguishing between each one (the Rebuild California campaign gave a short presentation to the Milk Club in support of the whole package.) As a member of the Milk Club, I’m embarrassed to admit that I voted for all five measures at the time – and it wasn’t until I got my ballot pamphlet last weekend that I realized how bad Prop 1A really is.

Meanwhile, the League of Pissed Off Voters held a forum this past weekend where all propositions on the ballot had been independently researched and vetted through. They recommended a “no” vote on both Propositions 1A and 1B, and a “yes” vote on 1C, 1D and 1E. Other groups should follow that lead – rather than just rubber-stamp a whole package deal that will prevent the legislature from fixing real problems.

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