State Senate Begins Voting on Public Works Measures

Times Staff Writers

The California Legislature began voting late Thursday on the largest public works package in state history, with the Senate passing a $4.1-billion bond measure to finance levee repairs and poised to vote on measures for housing, schools and transportation.

The Assembly was expected to take up the proposals early today. Late Thursday, Democrats were still trying to overcome persistent Republican reservations.

If the package is approved and then sanctioned by voters in the November general election, the state would borrow $36.3 billion to expand and repair crammed roads and schools, protect California’s water supply from flooding, and encourage the construction of housing in urban areas and near public transportation.

Republican lawmakers, who have been uncomfortable with the notion of adding to California’s already extensive debt and with the proposed spending on housing, demanded long-sought changes to the state’s environmental regulations and a host of other concessions as the price of their support.

Democrats added an extra $1 billion for levee repairs and agreed to ease some environmental rules and allow a handful of projects to be done by private companies instead of the state.


It was unclear if that was enough to appease the GOP.

Still, “I think it looks more promising now than anything they’ve been working on,” said Jim Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs, a contractors group that favors the deal. “They know the voters really want to see the Legislature get something done to rebuild the state.”

Republicans hold veto power in the Legislature although they are a minority; their votes are needed to reach the two-thirds majority required for lawmakers to place bond measures on the ballot. The governor’s signature is also required.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) said he was determined to put the bond package to a vote Thursday night, although it was unclear if there would be enough Republican support to pass it.

Nunez said he did not want the bond package to get tangled in budget politics next week, when the governor is expected to release a revised budget. “I’m not going to get hijacked,” Nunez said. “This discussion is not going to go on next week."The plan under negotiation by the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate and Assembly called for four bond issues to be placed before voters on Nov. 7, when a governor and most of the Legislature will be elected.

Those measures -- involving nearly twice as much borrowing as has ever been put to the electorate at one time -- would raise:

* $19 billion for transportation, much of it designated to alleviate the state’s crowded commercial corridors and help move goods from California’s ports. The proposal also designated $1 billion to improve 400 miles of California 99, which runs through the state’s Republican-leaning center, and $4 billion for public transportation, a priority of Democratic-led cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

* About $10 billion for school construction and renovation, focusing on secondary schools but including $3 billion for public colleges. Though the second-largest component of the package, the education portion would be $2.3 billion less than the amount voters approved in 2004.

* $4.1 billion for repairing the levees that prevent flooding along the Northern California rivers and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that ferry water to the state’s farmland and provide drinking water to Southern California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has already declared a state emergency because so many of those levees are in poor shape.

* $2.8 billion for new affordable housing, with more than $1 billion to be used to assist construction in cities and near public transit.

Schwarzenegger, who said infrastructure improvements are critical to the state’s future and proposed a $68-billion borrowing plan in his State of the State speech in January, has mostly kept his distance from the negotiations.

Legislative leaders blamed the governor for the collapse of a $49-billion public works deal in March. The most recent negotiations have been driven by a desire to prevent an association of contractors and unions from placing an initiative on the November ballot.

That measure would prevent lawmakers from balancing the state budget with the state’s gas tax revenues -- which are supposed to go solely to transportation projects.

The initiative’s backers planned to file signatures with elections officials today unless lawmakers put transportation improvements on the ballot.

The deadline for lawmakers to place bond issues on the November ballot is the end of August. Many lawmakers say the time for an agreement is now, before campaigning for the fall election heats up.


Times staff writer Evan Halper contributed to this report.



Investing in infrastructure


$19 billion, including:

* $4 billion for rail, bus improvements

* $4.5 billion for high-priority road improvements

* $1 billion for new transit safety, disaster response program

* $1 billion for port air quality


$10.4 billion, including:

* $3.3 billion to improve secondary schools

* $1.9 billion for new secondary school construction

* $1.6 billion for UC and CSU

* $1.5 billion for community colleges

Flood Protection

$4.1 billion, including:

* $3 billion for levee inspection, repair, flood control improvements, delta levee protection

* $290 million for flood-plain mapping, flood corridors, bypasses

* $300 million for storm-flood management

Housing and Land Use

$2.8 billion, including:

* $1.5 billion for affordable housing, such as multifamily dwellings, farm-worker housing, down payment assistance, homeless youth

* $850 million in incentives for renovating urban areas for housing

* $200 million for parks near housing

* $300 million for housing near public transportation


Source: California Legislature

Los Angeles Times