Bill Whalen

Lots of ballot measures, but where are the bond issues?

Community leaders, victims and elected officials announced Oct. 30 in Los Angeles efforts to place an initiative on the November 2016 ballot to speed up executions. Bill Whalen wonders whether any bond issues will be on the ballot, too.
Community leaders, victims and elected officials announced Oct. 30 in Los Angeles efforts to place an initiative on the November 2016 ballot to speed up executions. Bill Whalen wonders whether any bond issues will be on the ballot, too. Associated Press

Every spring, I make failed baseball wagers with my friends (a Nationals-Mariners World Series, what was I thinking?). Every other fall, it’s a shot in the dark at campaign outcomes.

We’re now within a year of Election Day. I’ll spare you the crystal-ball reading, though some things seem obvious. For example, there will be a push to extend Proposition 30, the 2012 measure that provided California with a revenue windfall – an estimated $8 billion in the current state budget – courtesy of a temporary tax increase on high-end earners.

In November 2016, Proposition 30’s sequel will likely channel the original: Another hard sell on what the tax hike means for K-12 education.

Other ballot measures – California could be looking at 15 or more – aren’t so crystal clear. That includes marijuana legalization. In 2012, Colorado voted in favor of recreational use, with the state’s Amendment 64 touted as a windfall for school construction. In Texas, where medicinal marijuana is now legal but recreational isn’t, a clever Internet ad featured a retired narcotics officer calling alcohol the bigger gateway to violent crime.

How will advocates sell legalization here? Perhaps, as in Texas, with help from the long arm of the law. It’s worth noting that supporters of 2014’s Proposition 47, which lessened nonviolent drug penalties, talk up its fiscal benefits (an estimated $1.25 billion over five years thanks to smaller prison populations).

Here’s another topic that could keep political ad execs busy should Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature literally go down this road – infrastructure, in the form of a multibillion-dollar bond requiring voter approval. Be prepared to hear these statistics over and over again: the Golden State’s $70 billion backlog for local street repairs; $59 billion needed to fix our fabled freeways; and crumbling roads costing motorists an average of $762 a year for vehicle maintenance.

Is this a prediction that we’ll see an infrastructure bond on the November 2016 ballot? No.

But the idea of “borrow/burrow” has at least two things going for it. The state needs to find the money somewhere to confront the repair bill. Just raising the state’s gas tax won’t get the job done – not if it’s the same 12 cents-per-gallon increase debated this summer.

The second consideration is that his tightwad persona notwithstanding, there was a time when Brown was comfortable with credit-card spending, which is what a state bond is.

During Brown’s first two terms as governor, voters approved 12 statewide bonds in three election cycles. Add the seven others that voters rejected and it’s a total of 19 bonds considered in 1976, 1980 and 1982.

But during Brown’s second reign as governor, only two bond measures have gone before the California electorate. Voters approved both last year – Proposition 1 (a $7.12 billion water bond) and Proposition 41 ($600 million for veterans’ housing). In 2012, there were no bonds on California’s June or November ballots, but voters did have their pick of four tax initiatives.

Brown has two general elections remaining before his gubernatorial time is up. Perhaps he reverts to his younger self.

Or maybe he takes note of state Treasurer John Chiang’s recent observation that Californians “are still living off of Pat Brown’s investments” in infrastructure. Chiang might run for governor in 2018, so think of the Pat Brown shout-out as political road-building – starting a fast track to the governor’s office by portraying himself as another great builder.

That is, unless Jerry Brown beats Chiang to it.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.

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