Prop. 41, California's veterans housing measure, is not free

Often, things aren't quite what they seem on the ballot. Sometimes there's a bait and switch.

That, unfortunately, is the case with Proposition 41, the seemingly innocuous affordable housing measure for California veterans. It is being sold with some false advertising.


Not that Prop. 41 isn't worthy of voters' support and shouldn't be passed. It probably should be.

But it's not all that it purports to be — a costless government program.


The measure is being sold as not costing taxpayers a dime. In fact, it would cost us $750 million over 15 years.

The proposal — placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Legislature — would do this: authorize the sale of $600 million in general-obligation bonds to finance affordable housing for low-income veterans. The borrowed money would pay for construction, renovation and purchase of multi-family housing, such as apartment complexes.

At least half would be spent on housing for homeless vets or those at risk of landing on the street.

A good program. But not free, as supporters would have voters believe.


The bonds "would be repaid using state tax revenue, meaning that taxpayers would pay for the new program," the nonpartisan legislative analyst writes in the official Voters Guide. The cost would "average about $50 million annually for 15 years."

But in the same Voters Guide, the supporters' argument for Prop. 41 — signed by, among others, former Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) — states falsely that the measure wouldn't increase California's debt because it would merely use "existing, unspent funds."

Wrong. No such funds exist or ever have.

The proponents' claim is based on the fact that Prop. 41 would replace $600 million in Cal-Vet home loan bonds authorized by voters in 2008. For various reasons, those bonds were never sold. But if they had been, the bonds would have been repaid by the Cal-Vet homebuyers themselves and not cost taxpayers anything. That has always been the way the Cal-Vet program worked.

But, under Prop. 41, the low-income vets wouldn't be paying off the bonds. Taxpayers would. The money would come out of the state's general fund, which means other programs — schools, prisons, parks, healthcare — would be shorted.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti even got caught up in the false advertising last week in endorsing Prop. 41. "It uses existing money that hasn't been spent and puts it to good use," the mayor said in a prepared statement.

No. The money doesn't exist because the bonds haven't been sold.

For some, this may seem like a small thing. But it's a $750-million thing.


The 2008 bond proposal, Prop. 12, was the bait. Prop. 41 is the switch.