Not Another Water Bond?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

It feels every election Californians are voting on another water bond—and passing them. This November Proposition 3 is on the ballot, placed there through the initiative process. The state has plenty of unspent water related bonds. Shouldn’t we use the billions authorized for past water bonds yet expended before adding more billions to the state debt?

This bond would generate $8.89 billion for a number of water related projects including water quality, watershed and fisheries improvements, surface water storage and more at a total cost to taxpayers of $17.3 billion once the bonds are paid off with interest 40 years later. It’s hard to complain about the initiative’s goals but the costs should be put into context.

Since 2000 California voters have approved $31 billion in water and environmental projects using general obligation bonds. That’s money that comes out of the general fund used for all other services the state provides and GO bonds have first call on general fund revenues. About $10 billion of the $31 billion has not been allocated. That includes $4 billion that voters okayed as recently as the June primary election. In 2014, voters passed a ballot measure to reallocate unsold water-related bonds and authorized $7 billion for water purposes. Few have been sold by the state.

Citing a 2017 state treasurer’s report, the California Taxpayers Association notes that California has $83.24 billion in outstanding general obligation bond debt, with another $38.61 billion in authorized but unissued debt. If all bonds are sold, California would have $121.85 billion in general obligation bond debt, equivalent to nearly as much as the 2017-18 general fund budget. (Emphasis added.)

When do we say stop and use the resources at hand?

Of course, water is important to California’s quality of life. Water has been an important and contentious issue since the state was born and still is today. Just consider the fight that is brewing over Jerry Brown’s proposed tunnel project. But, by continually passing water bonds, especially those placed on the ballot through the initiative process, there is no overall management plan to deal with water issues.

Do voters consider the size of the state’s bond debt when voting on measures such as Prop 3? Hardly. If the proposal sounds good they support the idea and vote yes.

Californians should be concerned with water issues. But let’s spend money already authorized and let’s have better planning before jacking up the state’s general obligation debt.

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.