The $83.5 Billion Ballot 

An ode to California's "steal from our grandchildren" generation.


Prop. 1A
Desperate to balance the budget, state lawmakers have raided California's $2 billion special transportation fund twice in the past three years. Now, many of those very same lawmakers — and the governor — want us to pass this law, which would make it tougher for them to raid that fund ever again. Huh? Can't the legislature just control itself and quit bugging us with all these propositions?

Sure, our leaders know the transportation fund is specifically earmarked to fix roads, not balance the budget. But they want mommy to hold their hands and keep them from stealing from the piggy bank. In other words, Prop. 1A is just a microcosm of our political dysfunction. The opponents' argument: "What's wrong with a little raiding?"

Prop. 1B
Tired of road-repair measures? Too bad, because this is the mother of all pothole props. It could have been subtitled Don Perata's Early Thanksgiving Gift to His Best Pals.

Prop. 1B is the cornerstone of a massive bond package — 1B through 1E — that Perata brokered with Governor Schwarzenegger. It asks us to sink the state into debt to the tune of $19.9 billion; of that, $11.2 billion would pay to fill potholes, widen freeways, and build more roads, compared to $4 billion for mass transit. Unsurprisingly, the 1B campaign is funded largely by construction workers' unions and road builders — who also happen to be some of the Don's best donors. In fact, Perata is closely associated with three mega-PACs that had raised at least $21.3 million to finance the Yes on 1B campaign as of October 20.

Backers say California has long neglected its road system, and beg us to "invest" in the state's future. Opponents say it's too damned expensive. With interest, it will cost taxpayers some $39 billion, according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst. And because 1B generates no revenues, lawmakers will have to raid the general fund for another $39 billion. (Hmm. ... Prop. 1A is looking smart all of a sudden.)

Prop. 1C
Want more housing? Then Prop. 1C is for you. It's also for big developers, because it would pump $2.85 billion into their coffers. Prop. 1C would earmark about $1.35 billion for cities and counties to make themselves more attractive to homebuilders with upgrades to sewage lines, water mains, and parks. It calls them "grants," but they're really public subsidies. Developers love 'em because the grants save them from having to foot the bill for such things themselves.

This proposition also doles out $625 million to help low- and moderate-income residents buy homes, and $590 million to build apartments, including some low-income units. Finally, it would spend $285 million on homeless shelters, farmworker housing, and housing for battered women. Proponents are hyping this last point as the main reason to support the measure. Opponents note that 1C will cost us nearly $6 billion with interest.

Prop. 1D
Many Californians won't tax themselves to build new schools, but they'll rarely turn down school bond measures. In that spirit, Prop. 1D asks voters to put the state another $10.4 billion in debt, not including interest. About $7.3 billion would pay to build new K-12 schools or upgrade old ones, while the other $3.1 billion would do the same for higher education. The state teachers' union and just about everyone else is backing 1D. Let's "invest" in our schools, they say. Naysayers note that when the total bill comes due, 1D will dip into the general fund for more than $20 billion. Which begs the question: When will our timorous legislators follow the yellow brick road, gain a little courage, and actually raise taxes to pay for the things they say we so desperately need?

Prop. 1E
The last of these "no new taxes and to hell with the grandchildren" bonds would authorize $4.09 billion in debt, mostly to repair the state's aging — and crumbling — levee system. There's overwhelming evidence that Delta levees will likely collapse in a major earthquake on the Hayward fault, and the resulting catastrophe could rival Katrina. More than twenty million Californians depend on freshwater from the Delta. But if the levees go, the Delta will be awash in San Francisco Bay saltwater, and those millions of people have nothing to drink. Yes, it's more debt — $8 billion including interest — but who wants to look back after the catastrophe and say "I voted against fixing those levees"?


Prop. 83
Every so often a proposition comes along that seems to make sense until you analyze it and discover it's completely absurd. In short, Prop. 83 would bar sex offenders from living within two thousand feet of a park or a school. Smart, right? Arnold Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides sure thought so, too, because they jumped all over each other to endorse it. What politician wants to be seen as soft on perverts?

But hold on just a moment. Where are California's ninety thousand registered sex offenders going to live if this thing passes? Oh, the farmers are gonna love this one: A state Senate map analysis shows that rural areas — such as east Contra Costa County — are just about the only places where you can be more than the requisite distance from the closest school or park. In other words, every city and suburb, including most of the East Bay, would be off-limits.

There's still more to consider: For one, who's going to organize this mass relocation? Plus, Prop. 83 mandates that sex offenders wear GPS devices for life. Estimated cost of equipment and monitoring: more than $100 million annually by 2016.

Prop. 84
Clean water is good. But some voters may find $10.5 billion over the next thirty years too hefty a price tag. Like 1A through 1E, Prop. 84 isn't a tax. It would let the state sell $5.4 billion in bonds to fund a host of water quality projects. The measure promises to ensure high-quality drinking water, protect coastal areas, and provide flood control in the Central Valley and the Delta, where levees are crumbling (see Prop. 1E). Backers such as the Nature Conservancy and Clean Water Action say it will protect public health and preserve natural resources, including the San Francisco Bay. The usual antitax suspects oppose Prop. 84, citing the debt burden, and noting that Prop. 1E already covers levee repairs.


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