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Record bond proposal creates lobbying frenzy in state capital
STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press
SACRAMENTO - From the North Coast to Southern California, local governments, environmentalists, business groups - even Indian tribes - are turning up the lobbying heat on state lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as they try to grab a share of what could be the largest bond measure in the state's history.
Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders are negotiating a package of public works bonds that could help pay for projects ranging from highway expansions to rebuilt levees to new schools.
Schwarzenegger proposed a record $222.6 billion infrastructure spending plan in January that would be partly funded by selling state bonds and is negotiating with legislators to meet a Friday deadline for placing a bond proposal on the June ballot.
That deadline has set off a furious lobbying effort in Sacramento from interests sensing the potential for a taxpayer-funded windfall for their projects.
The lobbying interests include construction firms who see the potential for lucrative road-building contracts, city leaders trying to get a slice for local projects and environmentalists seeking money for parks, river restoration and other so-called "green infrastructure" programs.
"We have just four days to take care of future generations," Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities and the chairman of the California Infrastructure Coalition, said Tuesday.
The coalition, which includes local governments and construction industry companies, has been running a series of newspaper ads and holding news conferences around the state, fearful that momentum for California's most ambitious public works program since the 1960s could be lost if Friday's deadline is missed.
Even California Chief Justice Ronald George has jumped in, urging lawmakers to include bond money for courthouse construction and renovation, including earthquake and security improvements.
On Wednesday, about 100 members of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce were to descend on the Capitol for a lobbying effort timed to coincide with the bond negotiations.
"We do this every year, but with this one we were very careful to make sure it would be a good time to lobby for transportation infrastructure," said Marie Condron, a spokeswoman for the chamber. "That's our top priority. We want to do everything we can to get a bond on the June ballot."
The chamber also hopes to head off approval of new user fees that have been proposed as one way to pay off the bonds.
"We'd like to be able to do this without placing burdens on our economy and our businesses," Condron said.
Environmentalists and a number of local government leaders want the bonds to include money for parks and other environmental projects.
"Without a doubt, we need better roads, more mass transit and more affordable housing, but the communities those things connect and serve must be livable," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Tuesday during a news conference along the Los Angeles River.
"They must be places where our children can play, where they can breathe clean air and drink clean water."
Environmentalists and some North Coast Indian tribes are urging that the bonds include money to improve salmon runs on the Klamath River, possibly by tearing down a series of hydroelectric dams to help the fish reach spawning grounds.
"It's a good investment for the state," said Craig Tucker, Klamath campaign coordinator for the 3,400-member Karuk tribe, the state's second largest.
Poor salmon runs on the Klamath could mean a shutdown of commercial salmon fishing off the California coast, he said.
"It's a statewide problem for Oregon and California," he said. "It's a big thing for the economies of these states."
Schwarzenegger's office organized a news conference Tuesday featuring four Sacramento-area county supervisors who urged lawmakers to approve bonds to deal with a different type of water problem - flooding.
"It's absolutely critical that we get as much support as we can from the bond issue...," said Yuba County Supervisor Don Schrader, whose district weathered widespread flooding following a levee break in 1997. "We are all living in a soup bowl, and the only thing protecting us is the levees."
Schwarzenegger is asking for $6 billion in bonds to improve the state's flood-control system, part of the much broader bond package that would help pay for highway projects, new schools, reservoirs, prisons, jails, courthouses and certain other infrastructure projects.
The Republican governor's plan initially included $68 billion in bond measures that would be placed on ballots from 2006 to 2014. But recently he asked lawmakers to approve another $3.5 billion for flood control, which could push the total to $71.5 billion, although aides say that amount is negotiable.
Negotiators are trying to weigh which projects have the highest priority, how much debt the state can afford to take on and what will sell with lawmakers and voters.
Democrats, contending Schwarzenegger's plan would saddle the state with too much debt, have offered a smaller bond package totaling about $30 billion to $35 billion that also would include money for parks, schools, highways, flood control, affordable housing and hospital earthquake improvements. They also want more money for public transit systems than proposed by Schwarzenegger.
Senate President Don Perata, D-Oakland, said the Democratic proposals could be included in one proposition for the June or November ballot, which would set a record for the size of a single California bond measure.
The state's largest previous bond was $15 billion for reducing the budget deficit. It was approved by California voters in 2004.
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Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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