From roads to rails, California to rebuild

Moving to the political center, the governor announced a $222 billion plan to repair public works.

Now playing in America's largest state: Hollywood's actor-turned-governor stars in his own political sequel, "The Rebuilder-nator."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has decided that the proper path to California's future - and his own rehabilitation - is dotted with new bridges, highways, and levees ... and carpool lanes, commuter rails, and crime labs ... and schools and prisons, and ports.

Two months after voters rejected a series of Schwarzenegger-backed government reforms, and months before his own reelection primary in June, he has announced a 10-year, $222 billion plan to shore up the state's crumbling infrastructure. The plan - which now faces legislative scrutiny - would be the biggest in more than four decades since the state absorbed millions of newcomers in postwar migrations.

Democrats and other opponents recognize the long-overdue need to fortify the foundations of everyday life in the 33 million-resident state that continues to add at least 400,000 people each year. At the same time, they question where the money will come from: the plan claims no new taxes in a state billions in debt.

"The governor is switching from concepts to concrete," says Jack Pitney, political scientist a Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. With approval ratings at 32 percent, Schwarzenegger is recasting himself in a role in which he can point to tangible accomplishments come election time next November, say Pitney and others.

"The ballot measures failed to rally support because they dealt with matters that are remote from most Californians," says Dr. Pitney. Special election voters rejected a cap on state spending, the redrawing of legislative districts, restrictions on union dues, and changes in teacher tenure. "People don't get excited about abstractions, they do care about their everyday lives. People notice when the lights go out and they know our public works are in rough shape."

According to H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the California Department of Finance, the $222 billion price tag would come from a series of public bond issues, beginning with $25 billion this year. Citizens would vote on others in a series of elections through 2014. The remaining funds would come from the federal government, new tolls and fees on businesses and commuters, gasoline taxes, school and county budgets, and public/private partnerships.

"The governor is thinking very big, bearing in mind that infrastructure upgrades for years have been haphazard and piecemeal at best," says Palmer. "The idea is getting a comprehensive view and package for the kind of economy, safety, and way of life that millions of Californians want."

In his State of the State address last week, Schwarzenegger laid out his program where his program would invest money over the next 10 years. It included building 1,200 miles of new highway, 600 miles for mass transit - creating 150,000 jobs; constructing more than 2,000 small schools and 40,000 classrooms; and upgrading another 140,000. The plan also called for expanding water supply and delivery systems for an additional 8.5 million people, flood controls, university capacity for 500,000 more students, 101 new courts, and two new prisons.

"In recent decades, California has invested ... crisis by crisis, traffic jam by traffic jam," said Schwarzenegger. "There is a better way, a smarter way, a more fiscally responsible way to invest in our future."

Even as both opponents and allies lauded many of Schwarzenegger's proposals, many worry that the plan relies heavily on federal funds, which Schwarzenegger has not been able to obtain in the past. The plan also maxes out the state's credit for years, despite built-in limits to allow no more than 6 percent of general fund revenues for repayment per year.

And beyond the need to reach political agreement in Sacramento, which has been stuck in gridlock, there is a history of local resistance and infighting over major infrastructure projects.

"He is speaking much bigger than anyone I've ever heard in describing what we need to do for the state's future, and that is good," says Mark Baldassare, director of research at the Public Policy Institute of California. "But there are reasons why California has fallen behind, and that is because of how hard it is to get agreement in the backyards of where all this stuff actually happens. Legally and politically, it's going to be very, very difficult to reach consensus."

To achieve consensus in the capital and beyond, Schwarzenegger offered a conciliatory tone that some analysts interpret as a "new, improved Arnold," and others say is a return to his centrist roots.

"I have absorbed my defeat and learned my lessons," Schwarzenegger said, speaking to Democrats and voters, whom he alienated during the special election. "And the people, who always have the last word, sent a clear message - cut the warfare, cool the rhetoric, find common ground, and fix the problems together. So I say to my fellow Californians - message received."

"He is moving back to the center where he was elected, because voters did not take kindly to his becoming more partisan and going around Democratic opponents to the people," says Sherry Jeffe, political scientist at the University of Southern California. "As the incumbent coming up for reelection, he has to produce a record to run on. That's what this is about."

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