By Susan Peters & Patrick Kennedy, Sacramento County Supervisors.
In November, California voters will finally have a chance to close a loophole that allows state agencies and politicians to issue multi-billion dollar bonds for state projects without voter approval.
California’s long-term debt is important to everyone and will have a huge impact on the future of our state. As Sacramento County supervisors, part of our job entails providing services and approving projects for the betterment of our county. But, our dedication to the good of all Californians goes far beyond the district lines.
As California’s long-term debt continues to spiral out of control – currently over $330 billion –many are concerned that state agencies and politicians are spending other people’s money too freely. Many also believe that Californians should have a say in the debt that they and their children will have to pay. We agree.
That’s why we support the Stop Blank Checks ballot initiative. This measure closes a loophole in the California Constitution that allows politicians and state agencies to sign us up for billions in debt without voter approval. Currently, voter approval is required for general obligation bonds but not revenue bonds. This measure would change that and require politicians to get voter approval before issuing multi-billion dollar revenue bonds for the state’s largest projects. These massive projects impact millions of people, but they don’t have a say.
Recently, we read an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee by former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness on this initiative. In his piece, he dispelled misinformation by the opponents who claimed that the initiative would interfere with natural disaster response funding.
When we started to read more about the initiative, we learned that the opponents argue it will hinder local projects. As county supervisors, this critique caught our attention. But, when we read the actual initiative, we discovered that it is just not true. The Stop Blank Checks initiative does not apply to local governments like cities, counties and special districts – not even school districts or community college districts. They are all specifically excluded.
The initiative only applies to state agencies and departments. So, opponents’ claim that the University of California is covered under the initiative is false as well. To be clear, the initiative only applies to state revenue bond projects costing more than $2 billion.
Additionally, opponents argue that revenue bonds are repaid with the funds generated by the projects they finance, so they shouldn’t go to a statewide vote. But, all revenue bonds are ultimately paid off by California voters in some fashion or another – either through taxes paid to the General Fund, or by higher electricity, water or toll rates, or other fees imposed by the project.
We support the Stop Blank Checks initiative because if voters have to pay, they should have a say. It’s as simple as that.