Bond Fight’s Purse Is Big
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $222-billion plan to refurbish California’s crumbling foundations has produced a free-for-all in the Capitol, as lobbyists and lawmakers jostle to get a piece of it.
Schwarzenegger’s proposal would span a decade and cover hundreds of ideas to “rebuild California.” But despite the huge cost, there is not enough money to fulfill every wish list for repairing the state’s freeways, schools, waterways and prisons.
“It’s going to be your standard legislative slugfest,” said Barry Broad, a labor lobbyist in Sacramento, where lawmakers will begin negotiating details of the plan this week. “Everyone is going to want their pet project put in, including me.”
Hospitals say they need at least $30 billion for repairs before the next big earthquake. Environmentalists would like $500 million for nonpolluting school buses and money for new parks. Democratic lawmakers want $500 million to improve security on buses and subways, and $1 billion for a high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Broad’s clients would like better wages and benefits for port truckers.
There are nine bills in the Legislature that would implement the governor’s plan to pay for new and refurbished roads, build hundreds of schools, make levee repairs and put up new prisons and courthouses, among other projects.
Schwarzenegger would finance the work by asking voters to approve $68 billion in bond measures over the next five elections, supplementing that money with new fees, existing taxes and federal funds.
Lawmakers, who must pass any infrastructure plan before it goes to the ballot, said they would need several months to negotiate the details. At the same time, they’ll be working on their own rebuilding plans, which they hope to integrate into Schwarzenegger’s.
How the billions are earmarked will be the biggest power struggle in the Capitol this year.
The governor’s program contains no provisions for repairing any of California’s 470 acute-care hospitals. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the state required hospitals to retrofit or rebuild to withstand a major quake by 2008; additional requirements kick in by 2030.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) has his own infrastructure proposal that includes an unspecified amount to help nonprofit hospitals, particularly those in low-income and rural areas. Because there are so many other projects on the table, hospitals could get far less than the $30 billion they estimate they’ll need.
Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Assn., said the state should instead consider eliminating the 2008 deadline and let hospitals work toward the tougher 2030 requirements to ensure that they can be fully operational after a major earthquake. Lawmakers “wouldn’t be able to give hospitals enough to make a difference,” Emerson said, acknowledging the numerous demands on available bond money, “and then there would be a perception that they had resolved the problem this year but really hadn’t.”
Schwarzenegger’s program also offers nothing for the new parklands that environmentalists want. The governor has suggested spending more than $200 million on existing state parks, from fixing leaky bathrooms to restoring trails.
In March 2000, California voters approved $1.2 billion to buy and repair public parks. They followed up with $2.6 billion more in March 2002. But most of that money has been spent. In addition, California needs about $900 million in repairs to parks, according to the state parks department.
Schwarzenegger’s plan does include $2 billion to control pollution around California’s busy ports, which may include helping transportation companies buy cleaner-burning trucks. Environmental groups say more money is needed.
Lawmakers won’t be negotiating over just money. Democrats and environmentalists don’t want the governor to weaken environmental protections to speed up building projects -- something Republican lawmakers said they would insist on as a requirement for their votes. The governor needs Republican votes for a bond measure to pass the Legislature.
Environmentalists would like to see the governor include “smart growth” projects that would encourage, for example, new housing in blighted city centers to stem suburban sprawl that is eating up farmland.
“Mindless building without planning is just a recipe for more traffic and more pollution,” said Bill Magavern, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club.
Housing advocates and Democrats want billions to help provide inexpensive housing for farmworkers and other poor people. The total need for public housing and emergency shelters “conceivably could be as much as $30 billion over 10 years,” said Julie Snyder, policy director for the Sacramento nonprofit group Housing California. “We don’t think it makes much sense to look at 10 years worth of transportation projects ... and ignore where people are actually going to live,” Snyder said. “The roads make no difference if there is no home at the end of it.”
The governor wants to spend $107 billion on transportation. Big projects under consideration include new lanes for the clogged 710 Freeway from the Port of Long Beach northward, and a tunnel under the Angeles National Forest to help carry traffic from Palmdale to Glendale.
There will be jockeying over high-speed rail as well. State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) has suggested adding $1 billion to the infrastructure plan to buy rights of way and to study the environmental effects of high-speed service from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The governor’s plan would freeze government support for high-speed rail entirely. And Schwarzenegger wants the Legislature to withdraw a ballot measure scheduled for November that would sell $9 billion in bonds for a statewide high-speed train, which would eat into his ability to borrow for other building projects.
The list goes on:
Perata wants $500 million for security cameras and communication equipment to bolster security on buses and subways. He also is suggesting $125 million for seismic repairs on small bridges and $100 million to encourage housing and business development near transit stations, to reduce vehicle traffic.
The Sierra Club is recommending $500 million for new nonpolluting school buses, and money for a satellite weather system for farmers, so they can conserve irrigation water, among other ideas.
Some government and independent studies put the actual cost at $500 billion to fix the state’s infrastructure and prepare for an estimated 15 million new residents in the next two decades.
Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), a member of a newly formed committee to consider the governor’s plan, said that available money for public housing, libraries and parks was running out. “Many of us would like to see some pieces of those items included in whatever the final outcome will be,” he said.
Schwarzenegger’s plan is not the only thing on lawmakers’ minds this year. Many are running for reelection, as he is, or looking for new jobs because of term limits. But the governor is asking for quick action; he wants the entire 10-year package approved and at least a portion of it put on the ballot this year.
“We’re concerned that this proposal could eat up all of the bond money for the next 10 years, and the timetable may not allow for the best decision-making,” said the Sierra Club’s Magavern.
Schwarzenegger and legislators say they all want a focused, long-term plan that addresses the state’s biggest problems thoughtfully. “We all are in sync that it shouldn’t become a Christmas tree,” Schwarzenegger said recently, “that we should build what is necessary for the state of California, not having each legislator say, ‘Well, I need this street to be built out in my neighborhood, and I need this little bridge there, and I need this and I need that.’ ”
Perata made it clear last week that he feels Schwarzenegger has left some important things out of his infrastructure plan, and that he expects many changes. “Most of us feel all things are not weighted equally,” Perata said, “and therefore we will have to make tough choices.”