Brown and Legislature Hit Infrastructure Funding Gridlock

Infrastructure constructionWith big infrastructure questions still unanswered, Gov. Jerry Brown has found himself at loggerheads with lawmakers in Sacramento.

From water storage to road repair and beyond, legislators have not met Brown eye to eye, raising the prospect of a protracted conflict that continues well into next year, with elections looming next November.

Diminishing returns

Brown had prided himself on a relatively hands-off approach to Sacramento’s fractured political configuration, which has seen moderate Democrats sink strict environmental regulations and Republicans adopt an on-again, off-again approach to negotiations with the governor’s office. “This particular approach of mine has worked in the past,” Brown said, according to the Los Angeles Times. But between California’s drought and its challenges in shifting away from the gas tax to maintain public roads, that comfortable attitude has begun to show diminishing returns.

“Administration officials estimate that $59 billion is needed for state roads, and local officials say an additional $78 billion is required for cities and counties. The longer it takes to reach a deal, the bigger the price tag will be,” the Times reported.

Analysts and opinion writers, long frustrated with the low quality of California’s roads, have homed in on the latest round of infrastructure troubles. “Traffic accidents in California increased by 13 percent over a three-year period — the result of terrible roads and worse drivers,” as Victor Davis Hanson wrote in the San Jose Mercury News. Hanson and others have held up roads as a barometer of the state’s broader political and economic health. “Why is California choosing the path of Detroit,” he asked, “growing government that it cannot pay for, shorting the middle classes, hiking taxes but providing shoddy services and infrastructure in return, and obsessing over minor bumper-sticker issues while ignoring existential crises?”

Looking for leadership

Brown has even taken some implicit heat on infrastructure from within his own administration. The state’s treasury secretary John Chiang recently revealed his belief that the governor needs to launch a new, transparent and top-to-bottom review of California’s infrastructure needs.

“Chiang wants to use the treasurer’s office to foster long-term thinking that California is sorely lacking and arguably has lacked since Pat Brown was governor in the 1960s, Chiang said at his keynote address to the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission’s event before the Bond Buyer’s California Public Finance Conference,” according to Bond Buyer.

“One of the challenges the state faces is to persuade people of the importance of long-term investment in an environment where many of them distrust the financial markets, Chiang said. That’s where transparency comes in. The state has made progress in governance and management evidenced by its boosted bond ratings, but people still ask what the long-range plan is, Chiang said. […] Such a study would need to come from the governor and the state Legislature, however, not the treasurer’s office, Chiang said. His office’s role would be to provide education.”

Winter worries

Clouding the picture further, Congressional Republicans in Washington have taken Brown to task on plans for shoring up the state’s water infrastructure. “The Republican members of California’s delegation are demanding a government plan to store the deluge of water that could come with El Nino this winter,” the Sacramento Bee reported. “Fourteen GOP lawmakers will send a letter to President Barack Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday asking for specifics about how federal and state agencies expect to capture, save and transport water. […] Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said the governor has opposed a plan approved by the House, and the Senate hasn’t proposed one of its own.”

Meanwhile, the public utilities have joined in the chorus. In an op-ed at the Los Angeles Daily News, California Water Association executive director Jack Hawks warned that “we cannot build a reliable water supply on conservation alone. Customers have been doing an outstanding job during the current drought emergency, but this level of conservation is not sustainable over the long term.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com