Who is to blame for California's failure to maintain its physical plant over the last two decades?
In part, it is the federal government, which has amassed such an enormous budget deficit that it has been forced to reduce construction grants to the states for roads, sewers, airports, higher education facilities and many other building programs.
California political leaders share the blame, especially recent governors.
"Sooner or later, government has to lead on this issue and the one with the best pulpit is the governor," said Lewis H. Butler, president of the planning group called California Tomorrow.
But Democrat Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, who governed from 1959 to 1967, was the last to use this pulpit.
With Brown proposing the programs, and with powerful allies providing the political muscle to move them through the Legislature, California expanded the freeway system, launched the State Water Project and built several new university and state college campuses.
"Pat Brown had the vision," said Gerald Meral, executive director of the California Planning and Conservation League. "That was just as important as the dollars."
Even some Republicans agree.
"I don't think anybody will deny that Pat Brown made a tremendous contribution to the state's infrastructure," said state Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim).
But in 1967 Brown was replaced by conservative Ronald Reagan and the mood changed.
"When Old Man Brown was escorted out by Reagan, the era of maintenance came into existence," said Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
Reagan argued that Brown's profligate spending had left the state in such terrible financial shape that major programs had to be curtailed. The voters seemed to agree, reelecting him easily in 1970.
"After Pat Brown, the voters were clearly of a mind to have a slightly different approach," said Ray Remy, executive director of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. "There was a feeling that we had grown too fast, spent too much . . . people were comfortable with Reagan's more limited view of government."
Reagan was succeeded by Pat Brown's son, Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., a puzzling political figure who seemed to be much influenced by the "small is beautiful" thinking of British economist E. F. Schumacher and who also seemed to lose interest in governing during his second term.
No one is more critical of Jerry Brown than liberal Democrats, among whose number he once was counted.
"He was part of the anti-growth, anti-government attitude of the last 20 years," said state Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove). "This bad-mouthing of government has placed the state's future in serious jeopardy."
George Deukmejian, the conservative Republican who became governor in 1983, inherited a substantial budget deficit from Jerry Brown and spent much of his first term in office balancing the budget and resisting new spending initiatives.
Deukmejian has spent billions on prison construction, and on buildings for the University of California and the California State University, but as the state's infrastructure has begun to collapse, the governor's parsimonious approach often has been compared unfavorably to Pat Brown's.
State Finance Director Jesse R. Huff thinks that is unfair because state government is responsible for many more kinds of infrastructure than it was 25 years ago.
"Pat Brown was a builder, there's no doubt about that," Huff said, "but it was mainly in water, highways and higher education. Now we have energy, mass transportation, solid waste, public schools--a long laundry list of infrastructure needs."
"It's a different game," he added. "I think this Administration has done a good job of keeping up and hasn't been parsimonious at all."
Many think the voters have no one to blame but themselves for the state's deteriorating physical plant and for declining state services. In 1978 they approved Proposition 13, which sharply cut property taxes, reducing drastically the construction funds available to local government. A year later, voters endorsed Proposition 4, the Gann limit on state spending.
"It's not 'them,' it's all of us," said Steven Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. "We all voted for Proposition 13 and the Gann limit."
Some believe the public now is more willing to pay for needed construction and repair and for better government services.
They point to the $5.5 billion in state bond issues that were approved in 1988, the 16 counties that have voted for local sales tax increases in recent years, and the public's willingness to support a temporary quarter-cent statewide sales tax increase to pay for Northern California earthquake repairs.
Others are not so sure.
"We still don't have anything like the critical political mass needed for a major push on infrastructure," said Edward K. Hamilton, a Los Angeles economic consultant and a former deputy mayor of New York City. "Even in transportation, the interest is limited mostly to Southern California."