LOS ANGELES --- Instead of waiting for a bond initiative to fail, California has decided just to pull the measure from the ballot.
With voters hostile to new bond issues, Gov. Pete Wilson this week signed a bill canceling a $185 million general obligation bond measure that was to go before the public in November.
But it looks like the legislature won't vote to eliminate a $1 billion ballot measure for rail GOs, a legislative aide to state Assemblyman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said yesterday.
On Monday, a 71-to-0 Assembly vote sent Wilson a bill by Assemblywoman Julie Bornstein, D-Palm Desert, to remove from the ballot a measure that would authorize issuing $185 million of GO bonds to provide mortgage insurance for first-time home buyers. Wilson signed the bill later that day.
"This is the first time in recent memory that the legislature has acted to remove something it has put on" a statewide ballot, Melissa Warren, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, said yesterday.
Both Bc rnstein and Costa acted because this June four GO measures totaling $5.9 billion failed in the statewide primary elections.
Costa's effort is technically still alive because his bill to remove the rail bond from the ballot, although rejected by the Senate on a 15-1o-14 vote Monday, was granted reconsideration.
Reconsideration is a parliamerftary maneuver that allows the bill to be voted on a second time. The bill needs a two, thirds vote by the Senate to reach Wilson's desk.
"We don't have the support .... It doesn't look likely" that the bill will move forward, Costa legislative assistant Jennifer Galehouse said yesterday.
The calendar is a major problem for the Costa bill. The state printing plant began printing voter information pamphlets on Tuesday, and the legislature adjourns its .two-year session Aug. 31. Language describing the rail proposition could be excised from the pamphlets, but only if the legislature acts in the next couple of'days, Warren said.
If the rail bond act survives, it will be one of seven measures on the' statewide ballot, and the only one asking voters to approve long-term debt. Five of the six other measures were placed on the ballot through signature-gathering petition drives and deal with a range of topics, including gas taxes, crime, tobacco, immigration, and health services.
Costa's bill marks something of a departure for him. In 1989, he sponsored legislation that allowed separate $1 billion GO rail bond measures to appear on statewide ballots in 1990, 1992, and 1994. Voters approved the $1 billion of rail bonds on the 1990 ballot, but rejected the $1 billion rail bond measure on the 1992 ballot.
Costa decided, however, "this isn't the right time for rail," Galehouse said. "If we have bond measures, we should put law enforcement and schools first."
Opponents of the rail bonds said that $306.9 million of the $1 billion bond issue approved in 1990 remains .unissued, and they questioned the wisdom of authorizing more public debt for transit purposes when previously authorized bonds have not been issued.
As with the rail bond measure, the first-time home buyers measure that Wilson agreed to drop from the statewide ballot has a lengthy legislative history.
Voters last November defeated a first-time home buyers proposition identical to the one dropped this week from the ballot. It was designed to replace the state's First-Time Homebuyers Act of 1982, an act that authorized the sale of $200 million of GO bonds. Only $15. million of bonds under that program have been sold.
The state's political leadership believes that now is not a good time to issue GO bonds, and for evidence they point to the four defeated GO bond measures in the June 7 primary. The bonds would have provided $900 million for higher education facilities, $2 billion for earthquake repairs, $1 billion for kindergarten to 12th grade school facilities, and $2 billion for parklands expansion.
Tony Miller, the acting secretary of state, said voter turnout in the primary was the worst in the history of California statewide elections. According to certified results released July 22, of 14.2 million registered voters, 4.9 million, or 35.05%, cast ballots. A total of 19 million Californians are eligible to register to vote.
In a development related to the November election, Miller last week wrote to the judge overseeing the O.J. Simpson murder case, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, asking him to recess the trial on Election Day and the day before to assure a higher voter turnout.
On Wednesday, Ito indicated he was not planning to grant a two-day recess, "but he hasn't made a final ruling on it," Warren said yesterday.
Opinion pieces in several state newspapers have expressed concern that the Simpson trial. scheduled to begin Sept. 19, will distract voters from the election.