Wednesday, October 29, 2014

More CA Election stuff: Still Yes on Prop 1

The Pacific Institute, a water policy research foundation located in Oakland, CA, has weighed in late with a curiously mealy mouthed report on California's Proposition 1: the 2014 California Water Bond Act. 

I recommended we vote "yes" on this 7.1 billion bond measure here
Prop 1: This is a bond measure to authorize the state to issue $7.5 billion in bonds (repaid over ~40 years) to finance new water storage (dams and replenishment of groundwater), regional water storage (flood protection, water supply, fish habitat), water recycling, and protection of watersheds, and improvement of water quality.  Most of the funds ($5.7 billion) must be spent on projects with matching funds from local districts and entities. We have a great need for water projects in the state. This is the kind of infrastructure spending the state should be doing. It provides jobs. It is wise in demanding matching funds from local entities.  It was placed on the ballot with near unanimous support from the legislature (Senate 37-0; Assembly 77-2).   YES.
Some have pushed back on this recommendation and I promised to take a further look., a conservative Sacramento based "journalism venture," cites the Pacific Institute Report as reason to vote against  Prop 1: "Are Benefits of Prop 1 being Oversold."  They don't make an express recommendation, but the implication is clear enough.  

The Pacific Institute report is available here

PI are noncommittal in their report, but it is negative in many respects. They give the impression that (a) they don't trust the political process, and (b) they would prefer a greater emphasis on conservation projects.  They surely are not wrong to mistrust the political process of how these funds will be spent. But so what--that's how we spend money unless we want to set up a politbureau central planning committee. See Francis Spufford's  Red Plenty for how that works out.  

I note that for a report issued to help voters, the report was issued rather late. The report was released on October 23, 2014 which is after some people were already voting through their mail-in ballots, and which has left little time for this report to circulate in a manner to have much of an effect on the election.  It is doubtful, in other words, how helpful this report will be to voters.  I can only imagine that the tardiness of this report cannot be entirely pleasing to the funders who supported it. 

There surely is a need and Propostion 1 provides money to address the need.  The PI report frames the issue in its executive summary: 

California faces serious and growing water challenges that will require expanded investment, changes in policy and institutions, and in some cases some fundamentally new technologies, policies, laws, and behaviors. In an attempt to address some of these issues and move the state out of decades of gridlock over water resource management, the California Legislature passed a series of water-related bills at the end of 2009, including an $11.14 billion water bond. As a result of the state’s economic downturn and due to fears the voters would reject it, the Legislature stalled putting the bond measure on the ballot until this year, when they negotiated a new version. 
On November 4th, 2014 voters will decide the fate of Proposition 1, which authorizes the sale of $7.12 billion in new general obligation bonds and the reallocation of an additional $425 million of previously authorized, but unissued, bonds (see Table ES-1 for a summary). If passed by the voters, Proposition 1 would be the fourth-largest water bond in California history, funding a wide range of water-related actions and infrastructure.
The report goes on to point out that there is no guarantee of how wisely this money will be spent.  Well, sure. Tell me something we don't know.  But as I mentioned before, I like the local matching funds aspect of this proposition.

The executive summary concludes as follows: 
Ultimately, the effectiveness of Proposition 1 funds in addressing California’s overall water problems will depend on how the funds, if passed by the voters, are actually allocated and spent. If Proposition 1 passes, the Institute recommends that the California Water Commission develop a rigorous, independent, and transparent process to evaluate and quantify the public benefits of proposed storage projects. We also recommend that decisions about the rest of the funds be made with a focus on meeting public and ecosystem needs for safe and reliable water, improvements in efficient use, and reducing the risks of future droughts and floods. 
If the California Water Commission identifies and supports good projects, bond funds can help move the state forward in the broader effort of designing, building, and managing a 21st century water system. But voters should not expect immediate relief from Proposition 1 for the impacts of the current drought; nor should they expect these funds to be the last investment that is needed for better institutions, smarter planning, and more effective water management strategies. It can be, at best, a down payment on our water future. 
There is also opposition to these bonds from small environmental groups who are afraid of new dams--although this bond measure doesn't commit anyone to build dams.  The PI analysis does not mention any environmental concerns. Jay Ziegler from the Nature Conservancy is not afraid of detrimental environmental impact:
“The cautionary note I would have is that whether your concerns are the adequacy of flows for fish, whether your concerns are there isn't enough here for the customers or there isn't enough here for agriculture – where do we start?” Ziegler asks. “If we don’t have this bond, not one of those issues, not one of California’s water challenges will get any better. If you don’t fund this, nothing gets better.”
Then there are those who oppose spending money in principle.  Money should be a non-factor.  Opponents point to the cost of the bonds at $360 million/year.  Although this is not chump change, this represents just two tenth of one percent of the State's annual budget of $156 billion.

 I'm Still "Yes" on Prop 1. 

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