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Bond Fight's Purse Is Big

With $222 billion at stake, the governor's plan to rebuild the state's infrastructure has sparked an epic struggle for a piece of the action.

January 15, 2006|Robert Salladay | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $222-billion plan to refurbish California's crumbling foundations has produced a free-for-all in the Capitol, as lobbyists and lawmakers jostle to get a piece of it.

Schwarzenegger's proposal would span a decade and cover hundreds of ideas to "rebuild California." But despite the huge cost, there is not enough money to fulfill every wish list for repairing the state's freeways, schools, waterways and prisons.

"It's going to be your standard legislative slugfest," said Barry Broad, a labor lobbyist in Sacramento, where lawmakers will begin negotiating details of the plan this week. "Everyone is going to want their pet project put in, including me."

Hospitals say they need at least $30 billion for repairs before the next big earthquake. Environmentalists would like $500 million for nonpolluting school buses and money for new parks. Democratic lawmakers want $500 million to improve security on buses and subways, and $1 billion for a high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Broad's clients would like better wages and benefits for port truckers.

There are nine bills in the Legislature that would implement the governor's plan to pay for new and refurbished roads, build hundreds of schools, make levee repairs and put up new prisons and courthouses, among other projects.

Schwarzenegger would finance the work by asking voters to approve $68 billion in bond measures over the next five elections, supplementing that money with new fees, existing taxes and federal funds.

Lawmakers, who must pass any infrastructure plan before it goes to the ballot, said they would need several months to negotiate the details. At the same time, they'll be working on their own rebuilding plans, which they hope to integrate into Schwarzenegger's.

How the billions are earmarked will be the biggest power struggle in the Capitol this year.

The governor's program contains no provisions for repairing any of California's 470 acute-care hospitals. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the state required hospitals to retrofit or rebuild to withstand a major quake by 2008; additional requirements kick in by 2030.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) has his own infrastructure proposal that includes an unspecified amount to help nonprofit hospitals, particularly those in low-income and rural areas. Because there are so many other projects on the table, hospitals could get far less than the $30 billion they estimate they'll need.

Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Assn., said the state should instead consider eliminating the 2008 deadline and let hospitals work toward the tougher 2030 requirements to ensure that they can be fully operational after a major earthquake. Lawmakers "wouldn't be able to give hospitals enough to make a difference," Emerson said, acknowledging the numerous demands on available bond money, "and then there would be a perception that they had resolved the problem this year but really hadn't."

Schwarzenegger's program also offers nothing for the new parklands that environmentalists want. The governor has suggested spending more than $200 million on existing state parks, from fixing leaky bathrooms to restoring trails.

In March 2000, California voters approved $1.2 billion to buy and repair public parks. They followed up with $2.6 billion more in March 2002. But most of that money has been spent. In addition, California needs about $900 million in repairs to parks, according to the state parks department.

Schwarzenegger's plan does include $2 billion to control pollution around California's busy ports, which may include helping transportation companies buy cleaner-burning trucks. Environmental groups say more money is needed.

Lawmakers won't be negotiating over just money. Democrats and environmentalists don't want the governor to weaken environmental protections to speed up building projects -- something Republican lawmakers said they would insist on as a requirement for their votes. The governor needs Republican votes for a bond measure to pass the Legislature.

Environmentalists would like to see the governor include "smart growth" projects that would encourage, for example, new housing in blighted city centers to stem suburban sprawl that is eating up farmland.

"Mindless building without planning is just a recipe for more traffic and more pollution," said Bill Magavern, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club.

Housing advocates and Democrats want billions to help provide inexpensive housing for farmworkers and other poor people. The total need for public housing and emergency shelters "conceivably could be as much as $30 billion over 10 years," said Julie Snyder, policy director for the Sacramento nonprofit group Housing California. "We don't think it makes much sense to look at 10 years worth of transportation projects ... and ignore where people are actually going to live," Snyder said. "The roads make no difference if there is no home at the end of it."

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