It was 3:30 a.m. Friday by the time both houses of the state Legislature finally passed a $37.3 billion package of four infrastructure bonds for the November ballot. Legislative leaders, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and media commentators called this agreement one of the most significant bipartisan achievements in recent memory. Such praise is well deserved.
The governor first proposed a $68 billion infrastructure bond in January, as the first step in a 10-year, $222 billion plan to modernize the state’s no-longer-adequate roads and transit, as well as school facilities, flood control and water supply, courts and prisons. This was a boldly ambitious proposal to make some of California’s most vital economic foundations truly competitive for the 21st century.
The immediate response of various Democrat and Republican legislative subgroups was to push and pull for increased shares of infrastructure largesse for various pet projects. After some four months of negotiation, what emerged from Sacramento early May 5 with two-thirds bipartisan approval were four propositions — $19.9 billion for roads and transit, $10.4 billion for school and university buildings, $4.1 billion for flood control and $2.85 billion for affordable housing.
This is still the biggest bond measure in state history, with a huge debt load attached. We plan to study the detailed ramifications of all four propositions before deciding which ones to endorse. It’s clear, however, that shining the spotlight on California’s dangerously outmoded infrastructure was a good thing for the state.
Gov. Schwarzenegger deserves ample credit for putting the important but dry issue of infrastructure upkeep on the front burner of state politics, after it had been largely ignored by the Legislature for decades. The governor also deserves praise for his persistence in pushing through an acceptable compromise among conflicting infrastructure priorities, despite months of frustrating setbacks.
The Democratic legislative majority must have struggled against considerable political qualms before handing Gov. Schwarzenegger a political win that will serve him well in the November election. But the many incumbent legislators seeking re-election this autumn also needed to show a major accomplishment in order to overcome the public’s widespread perception that the Legislature cannot get anything done.
There can be no doubt that a massive infrastructure effort will be necessary to keep pace with California’s expanding population, which is expected to increase by 30 percent and reach 46 million people by 2025. The state has not embarked on such a massive series of public works projects since the 1960s. Clearly we can no longer afford to wait.