California pursues $37 billion in bonds for roads, public works

| 5/12/2006

The California Legislature approved a bill package May 5 to ask voters to decide whether to spend a record $37 billion on roads, transportation, schools and flood control.

The public works package, which would be the largest bond issue in state history, now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk for his signature. The governor, who is expected to sign the bill, had wanted an even bigger bond issue.

Voters in November will be asked to consider four propositions: $19.9 billion for transportation; $10.4 billion for education; $4.1 billion for flood control; and $2.85 billion for housing, The Associated Press reported.

The package passed by the Assembly and Senate is just more than half of the $68 billion in borrowing initially sought by Schwarzenegger in January. But the governor said he was pleased with the result.

The transportation bond – SB1266 – would provide funding to relieve traffic congestion throughout the state. Much of the nearly $20 billion would be earmarked for commercial corridors and to help move goods from ports in the state. The proposal also includes $1 billion to improve 400 miles of California 99 and $4 billion for public transportation.

Both houses also approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that would authorize further protections to ensure state fuel taxes are spent on transportation.

In 2002, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 42 requiring fuel pump sales tax revenues to be used solely for transportation. However, that law allows the governor and state lawmakers to divert the money in the case of a fiscal emergency.

The proposed amendment – SCA7 – would limit the number of times lawmakers could dip into those revenues for the state budget and require them to repay the money within a few years.

Also approved was a bill that would establish public-private partnerships for goods movements.

Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, the bill would authorize the state to partner with private groups to build four toll routes and four high-occupancy vehicle lane projects.

Two public-private projects would be allowed in northern California and two more in southern California. Two HOV lane projects would be allowed in northern California and two more in southern California.

The Legislature would have final approval on the projects.

SCA7 now heads to voters in a statewide election. Nunez’s bill – AB1467 – has been forwarded to the governor’s desk.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor