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Voters back all 5 public works bonds

Times Staff Writers

California voters were poised to approve $37 billion in borrowing for a panoply of public works projects, according to unofficial election returns Tuesday but were rejecting proposals to expand government programs through new taxes on cigarettes and oil companies.

The massive public works bond package was championed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders after extensive negotiations earlier this year. Appearing on the ballot as propositions 1A through 1E, the plan would authorize borrowing for a host of improvements to the state’s roads, bridges, schools, ports and levees.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) praised voters for backing the bipartisan effort by lawmakers and the governor to shore up California’s aging infrastructure.

“When the Legislature and the governor work together to solve people’s problems, the voters stand with us,” Nunez said. “This is a huge investment in California’s future. It will continue to give California the competitive edge.”

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Two other money-raising measures -- one seeking to tax oil companies to promote the production of alternative fuels, the other aiming to expand healthcare funding through a tax hike on cigarettes -- appeared headed for defeat.

Among the plethora of propositions facing voters this fall, they were the most passionately contested, targets of noisy advertising campaigns and heavy spending.

Topping the spending charts was the oil industry, which invested a record amount -- at least $94 million -- against Proposition 87. The measure sought to hit oil companies with billions of dollars in new taxes to promote the production of alternative fuels.

Big money was spent in support of the measure as well, with Los Angeles developer and movie producer Stephen Bing pumping nearly $50 million into the cause. Former President Clinton, meanwhile, had led a gaggle of A-list celebrities in promoting the measure at events around the state.

Proposition 86 sparked an equally vigorous fight, with the tobacco industry spending lavishly against the proposal to more than quadruple the tax on cigarettes. The measure had broad public support in polls earlier in the year, but it dwindled as tobacco companies boosted their campaign spending.

Their advertisements warned that only a small fraction of the billions raised through the measure -- designed to expand healthcare for low-income children and increase funding for emergency rooms and research -- would go toward anti-smoking efforts. The hospitals and public health organizations supporting the idea could not afford much of a reply because they were outspent by the tobacco companies nearly 5 to 1.

The record-shattering spending dismayed campaign finance reform advocates.

“The process has been converted from the people’s process into a system in which public policy is up for sale,” said Ned Wigglesworth, policy advocate at Common Cause.

The proposed remedy on Tuesday’s ballot, Proposition 89, would introduce public campaign financing to California. The measure never gained much traction with voters, however. By late Tuesday night, incomplete returns showed it trailing badly.

In other proposition battles, a measure to toughen penalties for sex offenders and restrict where they may live was headed to an easy victory.

Proposition 83, dubbed Jessica’s Law by proponents, drew little campaign spending but held a strong lead in the polls from the start.

Though crime has dropped lower on the list of voter priorities, sex offenders consistently rank among society’s most loathed criminals, and measures that subject them to tougher punishment are passing easily around the country.

Aside from imposing longer prison and parole terms for sex felons, the measure would forbid released offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school and would allow local governments to adopt their own stricter residency rules.

Proposition 83, sponsored by a husband-wife team of Republican legislators, also would require registered sex offenders to wear electronic tracking devices for life and would make it easier to designate a convict a “sexually violent predator.”

The measure was backed by nearly every state lawmaker, Schwarzenegger and his Democratic rival, Phil Angelides.

Another measure that addressed a controversial topic but drew relatively little attention was Proposition 85, which would require parental notification 48 hours before a minor could obtain an abortion. With two-thirds of the vote counted, it was losing late Tuesday. The measure was placed on the ballot one year after its chief sponsor, San Diego newspaper publisher James Holman, lost a push for a virtually identical law.

As in last year’s effort, Holman was the largest individual donor for Proposition 85, spending more than $2.5 million, while vintner Don Sebastiani invested about $400,000 in the fight. Opponents outspent proponents by more than $1 million, with the biggest chunk of cash coming from Planned Parenthood affiliates around the state.

Supporters said the measure would protect girls by ensuring that parents had a role in decisions related to abortion. Opponents said such a law would force scared teens to make dangerous decisions, either delaying abortions or seeking one from an unsafe provider.

The debates over propositions 84 and 88 were barely audible above the din generated by other measures.

Proposition 88, the ballot’s remaining effort to hike taxes, would have increased the property tax bills of most California homeowners by $50 a year to raise money for schools. But the measure was abandoned by its backers early in the campaign, and it was losing badly Tuesday night.

Proposition 84 was another bond issue, placed on the ballot through the signature-gathering process. Written by a Sacramento lobbyist, it sought to sink $5.4 billion into water quality improvements, river and beach protection, park acquisition, flood control, museum enhancements and a host of other efforts aimed at stretching the state’s water supply and safeguarding wild lands. Incomplete returns showed it with a modest lead.

Still unclear late Tuesday was the voters’ verdict on a little-debated but potentially sweeping measure aimed at limiting government’s ability to seize homes and businesses for development.

Proposition 90, supported by many Republican lawmakers, was fiercely opposed by a coalition of government and industry groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce and the League of California Cities.

They warned that the measure would hold up infrastructure investments and paralyze the planning process.

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evan.halper@latimes.com

jenifer.warren@latimes.com


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