LOS ANGELES -- California Democrats and advocacy groups yesterday proposed creating a bond-funded state public financing authority to help finance local projects that achieve specified development and conservation goals.
Creation of a new California Public Improvements Authority, which could be funded by large general obligation bond sales, would in effect create an infrastructure bank to finance local projects.
The plan is part of a larger package that state Democratic lawmakers unveiled yesterday with the aim of boosting California's economy while managing growth.
The collection of new legislation and ballot measures, called the Economic and Environmental Recovery Act of 1992, was introduced by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, D-San Francisco; state Sen. Robert Presley, D-Riverside; and Assemblyman Sam Farr, D-Carmel.
A coalition of housing, environmental, and minority groups involved in the economic recovery and growth management plan said it was drafted partly because they were tired of waiting for Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, to propose a management plan to cope with California's growth.
The topic of growth management remains a pressing issue in the state, largely because California continues to experience sharp population growth despite a stagnant economy.
The proposal unveiled yesterday "is the first step down a path that will get us going," said Todd Kaufman, principal consultant in the Assembly Office of Research and drafter of the management plan.
"You can't take a purely economic approach to Californi's problems and you can't take a purely environmental approach," Mr. Kaufman said. "They have to move together."
Features of the plan include a state general obligation bond proposal for the November ballot to fund development and conservation projects. The amount is unspecified but may exceed $1 billion.
Sen. Presley also proposed legislation to create a so-called infrastructure bank, which would use proceeds from the state bond issue to provide matching funds for local projects that meet conservation and development goals established by the improvements authority. The bill also would establish statewide and regional policies whose goals include encouragement of cleaner air, better land use, and open space protection.
Finally, yesterday's proposal includes a constitutional amendment that allows approval of local bond issues for infrastructure, housing, and natural resources with simple majority vote rather than the two-thirds currently required. But similar attempts to lower the local GO approval threshold met with failure.
For example, state legislators have rejected for six straight years a proposal to lower passage requirements for local school bond measures. Mr. Kaufman acknowledged it would be difficult to change the minds of many Assembly Republicans, who oppose making it easier for localities to pass GO bonds on grounds that the bonds essentially entail raising taxes.
"It's going to be a hard thing," he said. "What's different about this [bond approval] proposal is that it ties several issues together," Mr. Kaufman explained, noting that it links needs for infrastructure, housing, and the environment.
Investment bankers have suggested on occasion that a state infrastructure financing authority could make sense, although they emphasized that it should complement rather than replace existing state and local financing agencies. The proposed legislation by Sen. Presley would require the use of detailed economic, environmental, and social policy objectives to determine whether the state public improvements authority financed local projects.
Since yesterday's proposed package includes goals focusing on regional development and conservation, it remains unclear how some local governments might respond. Assemblyman Brown and others previously pushed bills to foster more regional governance in the state, but some local officials opposed such proposals as an unwarranted intrusion on local decision making.