Concerning State Proposition 1A

Perhaps it seems a given that this site would wholeheartedly endorse a measure calling for massive improvements to regional, commuter, and public rail programs. But on the ballot in California next week is Proposition 1A, and it’s got this blogger tied up in all sorts of knots.

I should say from the outset that I am a huge supporter of the following:

  • Public transit (duh)
  • High-speed rail
  • Deficit spending to boost a lagging economy
  • Job-creation
  • Strong environmental protections

That said, the state is bound by law to balance its budget every year. We’re already seeing talk of steep ($4.8 billion) cuts to education with the shortfall of revenue this year. That could get even worse. Introducing new bond payment at this time just doesn’t strike me as smart. In an ideal world, the state would be able to deficit-spend, and I wouldn’t blink in supporting 1A.

I’ve checked with a few of the bloggers I read on a regular basis, and see two trends, typified by Kevin Drum on one side (no), and Matt Yglesias on the other (yes).

All this, and I’m still torn, five days before Election Day. Yikes!

So, I thought I’d call for an open discussion to get some feedback from all sides of the issue. Please have at it, and try to back up things you offer with links.

– Jeff really, really wants to support Prop. 1A, but just thinks now might not be the time.


  • Marjorie

    Prop 1A was initially suppose to appear in the 2004 election ballot. It was postponed. In 2006, it was postponed again. Fast forward to 2008, it is finally on the ballot. The longer we wait the more costly this project becomes. Think about this Jeff. The Golden Gate Bridge was paid for with a $35 million bond measure less than a year after the start of the Great Depression in 1930. The proposal for the bridge began in 1917 and the bridge was finished in 1937 underbudget! We are in nothing like the Great Depression although the popular press keeps referring to it AND we can not afford to wait an ungodly amount of time for this rail to be built. Please support Prop 1A. It’s good for our future.

  • I went back and forth a little too. The problem is that we have been issuing bonds in the past for things you don’t issue bonds for (like Gov. S’s credit card bond we had a few years ago) which makes it tougher for the things you DO use bonds for (infrastructure).

    Unlike a lot of the silly stuff on the ballot, 1a is a good idea, and now is actually the best time to start. We can steer the jobs to folks living in California, and the end result is something that benefits the entire state. I hate bonds but I’m voting FOR 1A (well actually I already did as I voted by mail). But anyway.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Jeff– If we don’t support it now, I doubt we’ll get another chance for years. On the plus side, you could view it as a New Deal-style public spending infrastructure project. Jobs, baby, jobs.

  • tara

    I’m also undecided, which is hinging largely on whether I think the state can survive this kind of hit to its budget. As much as I love rail and think it’s just about the best damned idea ever, I worry that approving this bond will take away from things like education, affordable housing subsidies, etc.

    I’ve historically been a fan of bonds as a funding mechanism for large infrastructure projects, but I think NJudah is right about the bond issue: we’ve been issuing bonds for things that are not related to infrastructure, and that has made the problem worse.

    I like what everyone’s saying about stimulating jobs. I’ve also heard that infrastructure improvements, a la the New Deal, have historically been smart investments, despite a sorry state of affairs for the current economy. So I could jump on board (har har) with it myself come Tuesday.

  • Another thing about revenue shortfalls that I’ve read about is an increase in the sales tax. Normally, I deplore sales-tax hikes. But this is one small way to bring more money to the state’s coffers, eliminating the need to cut so much.

    What would be ideal is an amendment to every bond-issuance proposition, something that would force audits of every recipient of state money. If there was a way to somehow make agencies more efficient, it would probably free up so much money to pay for worthwhile new spending programs.

    ARGH! Such a mess! But thank you, those who’ve commented. Let’s keep this discussion going. Please tell all your California friends to visit this post.

  • Scott

    Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, all of these were built around the depression for the expressed reason of stimulating the economy and creating jobs. If there was ever a time to do somehthing similar, it would be now.

    I agree with Marjorie above, and Obama from the Maddow interview where he said the problem with the type of spending we’ve seen is that we haven’t seen any results from it. No new roads, no new infrastructure. The financial costs of the Bush years were high, but we’ve seen nothing from it.

    In contrast, these bonds are tied to results and in the longrun will far make up what it cost.

    Keep in mind, this project will outlast any economic problems we have, and there will be times when it seems expensive, but 50 years down the road, I doubt Californians will regret it. In fact, they’ll (we’ll) probably say it was a steal.

    Sure we have some serious budget problems, ones that need to be addressed, but cutting this out of our longterm goals only weakens the state in the long run. Investments like this are the offense to budget cutting defense. If we want to grow the budget, we need more money. More money means more jobs, more taxes. Let the politicians solve the budgetary problems, let’s invest towards a time when these problems are solved).

    In 50 years, this project will pay for itself. Otherwise,if we don’t invest it, this money goes nowhere and taxpayers will see nothing — just like normal.

  • Let me add a little knowledge. High Speed Rail could be great. This project is a disaster and the reason is the leadership is not competent.

    Look at the record.

    They plan a route through a pristine environment, the Pacheco pass, rather than though an already built up route along the Altamont.

    Then the route planned and studied via the EIR from San to Girloy is owned by the Union Pacific Rail Road. Well the Union Pacific in May to the Authority you can’t use our corridor.

    What does this mean? It means the EIR is going to be declared invalid — a new one will have to be prepared and you’re looking at more time and much more money spent on non construction activities.

    Then the authority promises to produce a business plan by Sept 1st. They didn’t produce the plan. The demand for the plan was written into state law. The Authority right now is in violation of State Law. Why vote for a project that is going to be led by a group that won’t obey the law.

    Then you have the current fiscal crisis. The State right now, just can’t afford to start this project.

    The project is a boondoggle. Vote No on 1A.

    Lots of information at

  • Beth W.

    I was torn too, but ultimately voted in favor because it IS a good idea, and if we don’t do it NOW it’s going to be MORE expensive to do it later. Construction costs are going up ridiculously year over year, and I do want to see this happen.

  • Beth W.

    P.S. Scott — one quibble on Coit: it’s true that it created jobs (especially for all the muralists, which is awesome) but it was funded with private dollars. I doubt it would have happened at all without Lillie Coit’s donation. That said, it was built for about $115k.

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