Prop. 1, Prop. 2 backers oversimplify wildfire costs

The campaign for a $7.5 billion water bond and a budget reserve measure is running a TV ad that says reserves will help “protect the water and the fire services we need” in future economic downturns.

The 30-second ad, airing statewide, is narrated by Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and features images of Pimlott, wildfires and unidentified firefighters. Following is text of the ad and an analysis by David Siders of The Bee Capitol Bureau.

Text: “Just a few years ago, when the economy went bust, cuts to local fire service were devastating. We can’t go back – not with the worst drought in history and fires raging north and south.

“Props 1 and 2 protect the water and the fire services we need. Prop. 1 saves water for droughts. Prop. 2 makes the Legislature save in good times so that firefighters don’t come off the line when times are bad.

“Vote yes on 1 and 2. Save water, save money. Save, California.”

Analysis: The premise of the ad is that saving money and improving California’s water infrastructure will better prepare the state for future wildfires and droughts.

It is true that many local agencies reduced fire service during the recession, including with layoffs and station closures. It is also true that local governments are often affected by cutbacks at the state level.

But the ad oversimplifies the connection. While Proposition 2 would require the state to fund a budget reserve – and allow spending during a natural disaster or for other reasons – nothing in the measure directs money to local agencies to ensure “firefighters don’t come off the line” in future downturns.

Furthermore, much of the imagery in the ad is of wildfires. California has a longstanding tradition of paying for wildfire suppression even when fire costs exceed expectations and budgets overrun. In the most recent example, last month, the state Department of Finance notified lawmakers the state had exhausted $209 million set aside for emergency firefighting and that officials are transferring another $70 million from a special account into the emergency fund.

The federal government typically reimburses the state for a portion of those costs.

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.