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California and the West

Wilson to Call for Spending on State Building Projects

Speech: With economy sound after years of strain, State of the State address will focus on need to reinforce infrastructure, from schools to prisons to parks.


SACRAMENTO — Gov. Pete Wilson will tell Californians in his State of the State address Wednesday that the government has been pinching pennies for several years now and it is time to repair an increasingly sagging infrastructure.

His speech will be the first step in a yearlong sales pitch. The governor hopes that the Legislature--and then the voters--will agree to spend billions of dollars from new bond sales on a variety of construction projects.

The governor will warn that public schools are overcrowded, state prison capacity is not keeping up with the war on crime, state park facilities have grown threadbare, farmlands are at risk of floods, valuable drinking water is being lost instead of stored, and fragile ecosystems are threatened by development.

In part, that is a list of the problems that the governor wants to clean up before he leaves office a year from now. Wilson officials say that it is also an attempt to take advantage of what their own polls show to be a generous mood in an electorate that is enjoying prosperity.

"Times are good and the economy is strong," one Wilson official said at a briefing Monday. "Now is the time to invest in [our] infrastructure."

Monday was the fourth consecutive day of the governor's highly choreographed leaks to the media about announcements he will make in this week's traditional speech.

Wilson amplified the media effort Monday by staging an event for television cameras in Los Angeles about the same message his staff leaked to newspaper reporters in Sacramento the day before. That plan called for $8 billion in state bonds for building schools.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento on Monday, administration officials briefed reporters on the two latest bond proposals they hope to place on the ballot this year, in June or November.

One would generate about $1.3 billion, largely for flood control and water conservation efforts. The other, for about $800 million, is aimed at state parks and coastal protection plans.

In both cases, part of the money is needed for the state to fulfill obligations it has already made.

For example, the environmental bond includes about $95 million for California's share of a sweeping environmental improvement plan at Lake Tahoe. California has promised to spend $274 million on the project with an additional $378 million contributed by the state of Nevada and the federal government.

An additional $130 million from the environmental bond would pay California's share of an agreement with the federal government to jointly purchase 7,500 acres of the virgin, old-growth Headwaters Redwood Forest near Eureka.

The environmental bond includes other projects that span the state, from new restrooms at Borderfield State Park in San Diego to campgrounds at San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz.

About $11 million would be spent to make state parks accessible to the handicapped. Some of the money would be used to acquire and improve about 800 coastal and beach access properties that have been offered to the state through various development agreements. Two such projects in the Malibu area would get about $1 million from the proposed bond.

Likewise, the water bond is expected to pay for some of the $140 million in delinquent payments the state owes to several county governments and local water agencies for various flood control projects already underway.

The water bond would also pay for continuing participation in Northern California's giant CalFed water project. The project is responsible for pumping water to 5 million acres of crops and 22 million people--including much of the household drinking water in Southern California.

The water bond might trigger a Double take from some California voters who remember voting on another water bond--Proposition 204--a little more than a year ago. That bond will generate about $900 million, largely for improvements to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area.

Officials said the next bond would continue some of those efforts as well as a variety of additional water conservation, flood control and water pollution projects statewide.

The back-to-back water bonds reflect a political strategy in the governor's office of using bond money to pay for some items traditionally left to the state's general fund. At the same time, officials are trying to limit the amount of each bond to improve the chances of approval by voters.

That's why Wilson wants to fund his $8-billion plan for building school classrooms by passing four separate $2-billion bonds over several years. He would ask voters to pass one bond in each of the next four election years, beginning this June.

The governor's proposals don't always pass. State government has placed 15 bonds on the ballot since Wilson took office in 1991, and voters have rejected nearly half--most during poor economic times.

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