Weak economy sinks water bond; measure eyed for 2012

The backers of a sweeping, hard-fought $11.1 billion water bond on the Nov. 2 ballot said they favored delaying the measure two years, citing an uncertain economy and volatile political issues.

The move – not unprecedented in the case of major borrowings that go before voters when the economy is weak – means the measure likely will go before voters in June 2012.
Removing the bond issue from the ballot requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, which placed the proposition on the ballot as part of a political agreement.

The bond measure, Proposition 18, was the product of an 11th hour legislative compromise. It contained billions of dollars for projects up and down the state, including the state conservancies which are dependent on voter-approved funding.

The bond contains more than $1.7 billion in water quality and watershed protection funding – all of which is earmarked for specific agencies and groups. The bond includes $100 million for the Lake Tahoe Conservancy, $100 million for Salton Sea preservation and $250 million for a dam removal project near Lake Shasta.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is in line to receive $75 million to “protect the Los Angeles River watershed,” and another $25 million for Santa Monica Bay watershed projects. The Baldwin Hills Conservancy is set to receive $20 million if the bond is approved. There’s also $125 million earmarked for the California Department of Forestry for forest restoration and “to provide for climate change adaptation.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger called for the delay of Proposition 18, saying dealing with the deficit, government pensions and “fixing our broken budget system“ took priority. He said he would “work with the Legislature to postpone the bond to 2012 and avoid jeopardizing passage.”

Getting voter approval for big-ticket bond issues tend to be difficult when economic conditions are bad. The governor noted that a $9.95 billion high-speed rail bond was postponed twice during rocky economic times before ultimately being approved in 2008.

Jim Earp, a co-chairman of the campaign to approve the water bond, said he agreed with the move to delay the bond. Earp represents a coalition that favors construction of the water projects.

Because of the economic situation, “we agree with the Governor and legislative leaders that the best timing for the water bond is in 2012. We support postponing the bond to 2012.”
Tuesday’s announcement nine propositions on the statewide would leave ballot, plus elections for the offices of governor, U.S. Senate, and constitutional officers.

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