Our View: 'Rebuilding' starts now

October 25, 2006 12:00 am

California's leaders for too long have neglected roads, bridges, schools, levees and housing needs. State residents can begin correcting those problems on Nov. 7 by voting for Propositions 1A-1E.

Dubbed "Rebuild California," the suite of propositions authorizes the state to borrow $37.3 billion for various public works projects, including Crescent City and Del Norte County. It also reroutes taxes collected for transportation projects back to those improvements. The propositions enjoy wide political support, including the endorsements of both gubernatorial candidates, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrat Phil Angelides. Groups from chambers of commerce to teachers, construction workers and nurses unions back the five propositions.

The measure's few opponents say the bonds are too expensive. But continuing to ignore our roads, schools, levees and lack of affordable housing likely will prove far more costly. California's population is expected to grow by more than half a million a people a year. We can either be proactive and begin addressing those needs now — with those future residents chipping in to pay off the bonds — or we can wait until our roads are more congested, our schools are more crowded, our levees break and housing becomes even more expensive.

The Rebuild California propositions simply make sense for the state and for Del Norte County residents:

• Proposition 1A — The measure limits the Legislature's ability to raid gas taxes for non-road purposes. That's something lawmakers have done twice in the past three years by taking advantage of a loophole in Proposition 42. Voters passed that proposition in 2002 to dedicate the state gas tax to transportation projects such as new roads and bridges or repairing existing ones. The diversions delayed more than $3 billion in road projects, however — and some of that road money would have gone to Crescent City and neighboring counties where major highways lead to our corner of the state. The Legislature still could raid the gas tax in case of an economic downtown but is limited to twice every 10 years and must return that amount to roads within a set timeframe.

• Proposition 1B — The proposition allows the Legislature to borrow up to $19.9 billion for transportation projects, including public transit. If approved, Crescent City would see about $400,000 of those dollars. While much of the money would go to metropolitan areas, other nearby projects would indirectly benefit Del Norte County by making the drive here from San Francisco and Sacramento easier. Most notable are improvements to Highway 101 through the Coastal Range.

• Proposition 1C — The measure would allow the state to borrow $2.85 billion for low-income housing and domestic abuse shelters. California remains one of the most expensive places nationally to buy or rent a home and suffers one of the lowest home ownership rates in the country. The proposition would help correct that problem by adding housing stock to the market for an estimated 24,000 families. Housing agencies serving Del Norte County qualifies for some of that grant money.

• Proposition 1D — The proposition allows lawmakers to borrow $10.4 billion for public schools, community colleges and the state university systems. Most of the money will go to K-12 buildings, including charter schools, for additional classroom space. Community colleges would receive money for construction and to update technology used in instruction. Both Del Norte County Unified Schools and the College of the Redwoods qualify for grant money to improve existing facilities.

• Proposition 1E — The measure allows the state to borrow $4.1 billion to improve decades-old levees in the central valley. Most of those levees are not earthquake proof and maintenance of them has been deferred since the 1980s. Should an earthquake strike and levees collapse, the flooding could kill thousands while wiping out billions of dollars in crops that the state economy depends upon. It also will ensure more water is available for thirsty Southern California, lessening the pressure on our part of the state for diverting water to Los Angeles and San Diego.

We all depend upon quality roads, schools, housing and water every day of our lives. If California is to continue to prosper in an increasingly competitive world, we need to invest in our most basic needs and infrastructure. Local voters can ensure we do that by voting "yes" on Propositions 1A-1E.

- The Daily Triplicate