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Proposition 68: Money for parks, water, environment

Big Chico Creek in the town of Chico. (Photo: Bill Brimm, via Shutterstock)

The conventional wisdom in Sacramento is that high-dollar borrowing has a better chance of winning voter approval if the economy is strong. That thinking will be tested Tuesday.

Proposition 68 would provide $4.1 billion from a general obligation bond for natural resources, state parks and water projects. It is backed by Democrats and their allies, and opposed by anti-tax groups.

State parks spokeswoman Gloria Sandoval, said Proposition 68 focuses on underserved and disadvantaged communities, and seeks to conserve natural ecosystems, improve local parks and address drought issues.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal adviser, offered this breakdown of Proposition 68’s proposed spending:

Supporters include the California Democratic Party, California Chamber of Commerce, League of California Cities and the Sierra Club. On Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his support.

“Prop. 68 will help to build on the progress we have made across California to increase access to parks and green spaces and ensure all California families have clean, safe drinking water,” Garcetti said, according to the proponents’ web site, Yeson68.com.

Laura Shell of the Trust for Public Land said the measure offered critical environmental protection.

“All Californians suffer from the effects of pollution and climate change, whether its dirty air, unsafe drinking water, extreme heat, drought or wildfires. Prop. 68 enables us to prepare for the future, protect our communities and natural resources…” she said.

But The Central Coast Taxpayers Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association feel the payment plan needs to be fixed to assure that money is spent wisely.

Few would disagree about the hazards of air pollution.

In 2017, the American Lung Association named California the state with the worst air quality. With issues like asthma, bronchitis, premature death and lung cancer, officials frequently warn citizens to protect themselves. Warmer weather means more ground-level ozone, or smog.

Foes of Proposition 68 say they understand that California’s parks, water and natural resources need protection and preserving.

But The Central Coast Taxpayers Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association feel the payment plan needs to be fixed to assure that money is spent wisely.

“Don’t be fooled by Proposition 68. The proposition promises to protect and improve California’s parks. The truth is it doesn’t,” the Central Coast Taxpayers Association  said on its website. The group said the money is not distributed evenly through the state and the Department of Parks and Recreation, and that the department  “can’t be trusted with the money.”

The CCTA was referring to a 2012 Sacramento Bee investigation that revealed the department put into effect a plan to close  70 parks in order to achieve $22 million in state budget cuts — even as it hid $54 million in two park operating funds.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association also opposes Proposition 68, contending the state will be deeply indebted if it passes.

If approved, Proposition  68 would cost the state $7.8 billion, including interest, or $200 million annually per year for 40 years. The group said the state’s debt service ratio, or money spent from the General Fund to pay off bond debt each year, is slightly over 5%.

“That’s five percent of funds not supporting our colleges, our prisons, pensions or any other priorities … HJTA believes bond money should be spent in a timely manner and fund projects that last the length of the bond,” it said in a written statement.

Spokeswoman Susan Shelley said the projects are very important to the state, but the HJTA believes Proposition 68 hurts future generations. She said it’s estimated the project will cost the state about $3.8 billion in interest over 40 years.

“California still has to make the payments on bond debt and write the checks for pension benefits. That’s where things can get dicey for all the other priorities. That’s when you’re likely to hear calls for higher tuition and fees at the universities, or a new tax to fund prison operations,” she added.

In 2006, not long before the Great Recession hit,  California voters approved Proposition 84, a $5.4 billion bond of which $400 million went to fund 126 park projects, predominately in low-income communities. According to a recent analysis done by the state Natural Resources Agency, 42 projects remain in progress 12 years after the bond was approved

Click here for more information on Proposition 68


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