California voters to decide on $37 billion bond issue for public works

| 6/1/2006

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill package to ask California voters to decide whether to spend a record $37 billion on roads and transit, schools and flood control. The public works package is the largest bond issue in state history.

In November, voters 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 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.

“We will build more freeways and lanes, especially HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes … to ease the traffic congestions and also to improve the air quality,” Schwarzenegger said at the bill signing.

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 includes $4.5 billion for relieving congestion; $4 billion for public transportation; $3.1 billion for port and airport infrastructure; and $2 billion for local street and road improvements.

The governor also approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that would authorize further protections to ensure state fuel taxes are spent on transportation. It now heads to voters in a statewide election.

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 to establish public-private partnerships for goods movements.

The new law, previously AB1467, authorizes the state to partner with private groups to build four toll routes and four high-occupancy vehicle lane projects.

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

The Legislature will have final approval on the projects.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor