Thursday, May 24, 2007

Funds Misspent

Legislative intent is similar to donor intent in that there is a moral, and sometimes a legal, responsibility for legislators to spend money how they said they would when they received it.

Of course, if there is an emergency or a vital public need, that is another issue, but essentially non-essential projects being funded with monies designated for essential projects to protect against flooding is not.

Levees, not bike paths
California lawmakers may spend some of Proposition 84's $5.3 billion in bond money on fish tanks and 'overnight accommodations.'
May 23, 2007

CALIFORNIANS WHO voted for Proposition 84 in November had every right to take the "Official Voter Information Guide" to heart. It said the measure would authorize the state to issue $5.3 billion in bonds to pay for crucial water safety, water quality, flood control and park improvements.

So why are politicians in Sacramento now spending that money on "water-accessible overnight accommodations" at Lake Tahoe, bike trails in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, unspecified improvements to the Huntington Botanical Gardens and a new aquarium — er, make that oceanarium — in Fresno? Why? Because they can.

Put the blame on shortsighted legislators and loose language in the proposition itself, which was written to accommodate hundreds of millions of dollars worth of creative interpretation. Proposition 84 allocates $100 million specifically for museums and $400 million specifically for parks. But hundreds of millions more are set aside for what amount to vague purposes: missions such as "wildlife habitat protection" ($225 million) and the always popular "other projects" ($189 million).

Joe Caves, the lobbyist who wrote Proposition 84, told The Times that the prospect of throwing some funds to museums, aquariums and hiking trails sweetened the deal for voters by giving them something more to like in the measure than just a litany of dull infrastructure repairs. That's hogwash; more likely, it's the other way around. Californians have, in fact, been skeptical of borrowing large sums of money to pay for cultural institutions. Just last year, voters rejected Proposition 81, which would have provided $600 million in bond money for libraries. Crumbling levees and threatened rivers, on the other hand, command considerable respect, and those threats gave Proposition 84 the urgency needed to move voters.