There are none so blind as those who will not see, and the sole opponent of Proposition 1b to file, California State Assemblyman Michael N. Villines, qualifies for this description.
Part of the Rebuild California Plan, Proposition 1b is the allocation companion to Proposition 1a, which limits revenue collected from fuel taxes to the exclusive use of building and maintaining transportation infrastructure. Prop 1a takes it in, and Prop 1b doles it out.
Proposition 1b’s list of projects includes those intended to upgrade roads and bridges to current safe standards, expanding public transit and car pool lanes, and to improve anti-terrorism security at the state’s port facilities.
Representing the 29th State Assembly District, an area that consists of parts of Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties, and includes the communities of Clovis, Fresno, Hume Lake, Madera, Orange Cove and Shaver Lake, Assemblyman Villines should be very aware of how dependent his region is on quality roads kept in good repair, and he should also know that such maintenance costs money. If Proposition 1b were to pass, the average repayment for principal and interest would be about $1.3 billion per year.
California’s annual budget is over $103 billion [2006-7 budget report] per year, so the amount deemed necessary to keep California moving only would amount to just over 1% of that total. Yet all Villines can see is the fact that his constituency is going to have to spend some money through allocated fuel taxes on something the entire public uses. He doesn’t appear to see the benefit for doing so (as appears to be the case with one of my brother critics!).
Villines’ district sits astride CA-99, a specific beneficiary of Prop 1b funding. While the road is being upgraded in some areas, there remains much to do. Traffic is heavy for a four-lane divided highway, with semi-trucks hauling farm produce making up a significant portion of that traffic.
If these were normal times, I could see where Villines could make a case for fiscal restraint. But these are not normal times. The state has suffered poor roads for decades, beginning with Prop 13 cutbacks, and subsequently from the tight-fisted miserly policies of former governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, who refused to deal with the state’s growing infrastructure needs in favor of more tax cuts. Wilson’s successor Gray Davis bungled his chance to solve some of the problems, and only now is Arnold Schwarzenegger taking steps to do so, probably under great pressure from the state’s commercial interests, who are by now feeling the adverse effects of a substandard transportation infrastructure.
This is no idle assertion, as representatives of the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Taxpayers’ Association – an anti-tax group – have announced their organizations’ support for Prop 1b. Other highway experts, such as the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) and the California Highway Patrol, have as well.
But Villines isn’t done! He asserts, “every Member of the Legislature who voted against this bond measure supports restoring our state’s crumbling transportation system”. Yet the means for doing so is clearly beyond their desire, control or influence.
Senate Bill 1266, which is the legal basis for Proposition 1b, passed the California State Senate by a vote of 37-1 [97.4% Aye], and the Assembly by a vote of 61-10 [85.9% Aye], or an aggregate percentage of 89.9% of California’s legislators approving of Proposition 1b. This doesn’t leave Villines and his allies much room to maneuver.
Villines’ main objection appears to be due to the fact that all of the proposed bond issues added to the existing bond issues will run California’s debt to about 7% of the amount raised for the annual general fund devoted to principal
and interest payments on debt (Public Policy Institute of California, Financing Infrastructure [PDF]). According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a reasonable debt service ratio is 6 percent or less. Recent bond issues, including $15 billion in Economic Recovery Bonds passed to help resolve the state’s budget crisis, will bring debt service ratios above 7 percent from 2007-2008 until 2010-11.
California has successfully used bond issues in the past to fund necessary projects such as road construction and upgrading. I have no qualms concerning their use in such a manner, as it’s clear that Assemblyman Villines does, perhaps only because the debt service ration is at 7%. I understand his concern, but I don’t see it as all that critical. Neither, based on the final vote tallies, does the vast majority of the California State Legislature. As the Legislative Analyst’s Office reports, the level of debt will come down to 6% in three years, and the need is great as anyone who drives across California can attest.
I can’t see allowing a mere 10% bloc to dominate the decision to upgrade the state’s transportation infrastructure through the use of public debt. 90% in favor is more than enough of a majority to remind the minority that they lost this issue.
I do, however have some issues with the way the monies have been allocated. Considering that international events indicate the need for increased security facilities, especially at the ports, I feel that more money should have been taken from the roads fund and put to use to upgrade security. That is an issue that won’t wait for the money to arrive in future years. It can’t be ‘pay as you go’ as Villines would want. The state’s coffers aren’t brimming with bullion so that the business community of California can have a free ride.
As said community benefits to a degree in excess of that of the typical human resident, they should be glad to support their fair share of the costs. As a magazine article put it not too long ago, “Road Repair Needs Grow as New Roads Take More U.S. Money.”
I recommend supporting Proposition 1b to my California readers.