$11B CA water bill full of pork

November 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
California voters will decide on a massive plan to redo the state's aging water system next year. It will cost $11 billion, but critics point to $2 billion worth of special projects, earmarks, and pork.                   |   Watch Video Above for Extended Coverage   |

The Governor's signature on the $11 billion bond bill pays for badly needed repairs to the outdated delta system and ensures a reliable water supply for statewide use.

"Let me just say there is not one single dollar that is not going to be wisely spent," says Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-California.

But in the waning hours of last week's special session, lawmakers loaded the bond bill with earmarks in order to muster enough votes for passage, growing the financing by another $2 billion.

"Many of the interests that would be necessary for the bond to pass wanted more in it for them. So that's why you saw the bond grow," says Assm. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

Last minute earmarks include: $100 million for local and regional water projects just for San Diego County, $20 million for the Baldwin Hills Conservancy which manages recreational and wildlife land in Los Angeles County, another $20 million for economic development in tiny Siskiyou County, and $10 million for a U.C. Merced institute to analyze how climate change might affect water supplies in the Sierra Nevada.

"There's a lot of pork. Even some of the things that have merit in a more normal economy, should have not have been included now," says Assm. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville.

If voters pass it, the water bond certainly puts California into deeper debt.

This fiscal year alone, the state is spending $6 billion to pay off existing bonds; that's nearly 7 percent of the entire general fund. Add to that, the upcoming high speed rail and water bonds, yearly debt payments would grow to as much as $10 billion a year or 10 percent of general fund spending. In the last 30 years, debt service typically hovered around 3 to 5 percent.

"It sincerely concerns me because of that extra money that they're trying to use to cover this additional debt is going to come out of education or public services," says Maretta Tufts, a mother.

The California Constitution mandates that bond holders be one of the first people paid when the state pays its bills and just like many people's household budget, bigger debt means less money to spend on things you really want to.


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