Billion in Bonds for Dumb Dams: California Chamber of Commerce Threatens Water Bond Initiative2 min read

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While the State of California faces a multi-billion dollar deficit, the California Chamber of Commerce has decided to go to the voters with a proposal for a multi-billion dollar taxpayer-subsidized dam building boondoggle.

Yesterday, the Chamber officially submitted four versions of a water bond ballot initiative to the Attorney General, each totaling about $11.7 billion, and each including over $3 billion for construction of dams. If any one of these initiatives is approved, California’s taxpayers would be committed to paying over $700 million in tax dollars per year to pay off this new debt.

According to their press release, the Chamber would pursue one of their initiatives if the Legislature fails to produce a water bond in time for the February or June 2008 statewide ballots.

The Legislature has been unable to agree on a water bond, primarily due to conflicting views on the use of taxpayer funds for dam projects. Some legislators have demanded that billions of public dollars be granted to specific dam projects, even though those projects clearly lack public benefit. In particular, these legislators are demanding that the State continuously appropriate billions of dollars for these dam projects, stripping the legislature of any oversight authority.

Many others, including Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, have insisted that bond funds should be allocated to the most competitive water supply projects, and that the Legislature should retain the authority to appropriate funding each year, rather than sign a blank check for projects that don’t pencil out. Apparently, the pro-dam contingent is concerned that their favorite dam will not fare well against cost-effective water management strategies or public oversight of state funding.

If the Legislature can’t resolve its differences, the Chamber would likely gather the required signatures for one of its four proposals in order to qualify it for the November 2008 ballot. At that point, it would be up to the voters to decide whether to dedicate billions of dollars to projects that no one else, not even the potential water recipients, are willing to pay for.

Gary Patton is the Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League, a statewide, nonprofit lobbying organization. For more than thirty years, PCL has fought to develop a body of environmental laws in California that is the best in the United States. PCL staff review virtually every environmental bill that comes before the California Legislature each year. It has testified in support or opposition of thousands of bills to strengthen California’s environmental laws and fight off rollbacks of environmental protections.

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