Notable in the reaction to Governor Jerry Brown’s Friday press conference outlining money for dam and water infrastructure, while declaring the need for California to tackle all its infrastructure backlog, was the response from one of the leaders of the fight for improved infrastructure. California Business Roundtable president Rob Lapsley issued a release echoing the governor’s call on structural improvements and cost, but focused on “the real issue at hand” — state spending.
Everyone agrees that California infrastructure needs repair and the money to make those repairs happen. The debate is over how to fund repairs and build projects.
Negotiations on reaching a deal on funding infrastructure improvements have been going on for some time and business community leaders have been deeply involved. Meanwhile, the more open debate on infrastructure funding continues with the capitol generally separated into two camps, one headed by Democrats who want tax increases and the other by Republicans who want to redirect current funding for infrastructure purposes.
However, Lapsley broadened the debate by discussing overall state spending as part of a larger fix for funding the state’s priorities.
Laplsey wrote, “California is one of the highest taxed states in the nation and, even after passing even more taxes through Prop 55 last November, the state is effectively out of money. We have record general fund and special fund revenues, but it has been decades since infrastructure investment was a priority in our state budget.”
While pledging to support the Brown Administration’s efforts to secure infrastructure dollars from Washington, Lapsley wrote, “we need an honest rational discussion in the Legislature on how to pay for state salaries, pensions and pension debt, health care, dams, flood control, roads, transit, schools and other infrastructure needs while expediting solutions through real regulatory reform that apply to all economically important projects, and not just the politically favored few.”
California’s infrastructure, as California Chamber of Commerce president Allan Zaremberg noted in a release tied to the governor’s press conference, “is a key component of maintaining and improving California’s economy for everyone’s benefit.”
Simply put, infrastructure improvements must be a priority of state spending because the improvements benefit all Californians economically and on safety issues.
Lapsley rightly points out infrastructure has been a low priority for California lawmakers for some time. That has to change.
The change will have to include discussing spending on all other programs in this high tax state. We must consider the spending on pensions and salaries and debt and all the issues Lapsley raised if we are to focus attention on the paramount needs of infrastructure. In the end, improving infrastructure would advance the economy, which in turn would benefit all the other areas funded by the state budget.
Joel Fox Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee.