California voters denied sayin prison borrowing

May 28, 2007 11:00 pm

What would elected leaders do if no one was looking? In plain sight, they have thumbed their noses at taxpayers and done what they must have known they wouldn't be allowed to do if they had asked voters for permission first.

... But legislators in cahoots with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and under pressure from federal courts to ease prison overcrowding apparently weren't anxious to ask for voter approval of another $6.1 billion in bonds on the heels of $42 billion voter-approved of infrastructure improvement bonds in November.

Instead, Schwarzenegger and company obligated the state to massive additional debt, to be repaid by future revenue appropriated to the Department of Corrections. Or, as Coupal observed, "In other words, general-fund money will simply be transferred from the right pocket to the left pocket."

This is a scheme profiting many constituencies, including those who write the rules: the underwriters, legal counsels and buyers of bonds and politicians who desire to appear to be accomplishing something worthwhile. These self-interested stakeholders, in Coupal's words, are not going to let a little thing like a constitutional mandate requiring voter approval stand in their way.

The "lease revenue" bonds are an unsavory ruse to circumvent what the California Constitution originally sought to require: voter approval before taking on substantial debt. ...

Even if this massive debt was good for taxpayers, it's a decision effectively removed from their hands. Taxpayers were eliminated from the equation, except that they ultimately remain on the financial hook. Coupal said it's time for a constitutional amendment requiring a public vote for any type of long-term indebtedness, irrespective of technical weasel words.

We concur, but don't expect legislators complicit in this deception to cooperate. If they wanted voters to have a say, lawmakers probably would have asked them in the first place.

– Marysville Appeal-Democrat