Sinking the Water Bond

Water Bond Sinks

So, Governor Jerry Brown is thinking about postponing the $11 billion water bond scheduled for the November ballot.

His reasoning is simple enough: If the water bond is taken off the list of ballot issues, perhaps the voters will be more willing to support his temporary tax hike package.

Postponing the water bond makes a lot of sense for another reason: the state is drowning in bond payments from previous commitments.

As of October 2010, Californians were paying interest on $90 billion worth of bonds, with another $53 billion yet to be purchased.

All this adds up in a big way. In the 2011-2012 state budget, for example, $5.5 billion were spent on bond interest--that came to about 6.5 percent of the entire general fund.

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The state Treasurer's office estimates that the amount will rise to 9 percent in the near future as other bonds are purchased.

No wonder California has the lowest bond rating--and highest interest rate--of the 50 states. We are addicted to bonds.

Don't blame the legislature.

Almost all bonds are authorized by the voters. Yet a public opinion poll taken in 2004 found that only 8 percent of the voters know "a lot" about the interest associated with bonds. After all, who wants to be bummed out over that?

Bonds do a lot of good things--build highways, dams, schools and countless other infrastructure projects.

But the cost of paying for them over time is killing us, financially. Imagine what that $5.5 billion could do for K-12 public education or any of the other state programs that have been ravaged by cuts in recent years.

We need to pay for more projects and programs such as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in real time rather than over time. It's a critical project that should not wait.

That means generating enough revenue through more taxes, and a lot more than the temporary package Brown has in mind for November.

Societies are not great by accident; they are great through public investment. We are long overdue for a major payment.

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