Chronicle editorial board
California voters may be wondering why they are looking at an $8.9 billion water bond on the Nov. 6 ballot. They may be asking: Didn’t we just approve a $4 billion bond in June? Why are our elected officials coming back for more?
The short answer: They aren’t.
Unlike the recently passed bond, Proposition 3 did not go through the legislative process. Its $430 million in annual spending commitments over the next four decades will not need to go through the annual legislative budgeting cycle to ensure that the funds are going where the voters intended.
This scheme was devised as an initiative that is being funded, in part, by individuals and entities that are going to be receiving a share of the bond money. The pay-to-play aspect in itself should give voters ample reason to reject Prop. 3.
There are also good policy reasons to vote no.
One of the egregious examples cited by the Sierra Club, which opposes the initiative, is the $750 million for repairs of the Friant-Kern Canal. As the environmental organization noted, the damage was caused by subsidence caused by overpumping of aquifers. Such costs are traditionally covered by the beneficiaries. Instead, Prop. 3 shifts the burden to taxpayers.
As the Sierra Club acknowledged, the measure does include some worthwhile projects to ensure safe drinking water, habitat protection and watershed and fisheries improvements. But it also could result in funding of new or raised dams and agribusiness subsidies that many environmentalists loathe.
Voters defeated a similarly constructed pay-to-pay scheme by the architect of this measure, Gerald Meral, in 2002. That scheme (Proposition 51, rejected by 58.2 percent) would have diverted 30 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue from vehicle sales and leases into a fund distributed outside the normal budgeting process, showering largesse on big contributors to the campaign.