Proposition 192
Seismic Retrofit Bond Act of 1996

The information below was provided by the California Journal.

Background: The state's Seismic Retrofit Program was established following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake to identify and strengthen bridges that needed to be brought up to seismic safety standards. A review by the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) placed about 1039 state highway bridges in this category, called Phase 1. Retrofitting of Phase 1 bridges is generally complete; the work was funded by state gas taxes. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Caltrans identified another 1209 state-owned bridges that do not meet seismic safety standards. In addition to these "Phase 2" bridges, Caltrans also identified seven state-owned toll bridges in need of retrofitting. The cost to retrofit Phase 2 bridges and the toll bridges is estimated at $2 billion. State highway projects traditionally have been financed through the state's gas tax, which was increased by $.09 with approval of Proposition 111 in the 1990 June primary election, and maintenance of state-owned toll bridges has been covered by toll revenues. The legislation that placed Proposition 111 on the ballot was approved prior to the 1989 earthquake; following the earthquake, a law was enacted giving seismic retrofitting priority over other state highway projects.

Proposal: Proposition 192 authorizes the issuance of $2 billion in general obligation bonds to reconstruct, replace or retrofit state-owned highways and bridges, including toll bridges, that make up Phase 2 of the Seismic Retrofit Program. Of this amount, $650 million is earmarked for seismic retrofitting of toll bridges. The proposition specifies that expenditures for retrofitting these bridges, overpasses and interchanges be funded exclusively from the bonds; state gas taxes and toll revenues could not be used for this purpose. Diversion of the bond funds for other purposes would be prohibited. The state auditor general is directed to conduct an annual audit, available for public review, to ensure that funds are spent only on identified projects. Projects financed under this proposition would be exempt from the state's requirements regarding environmental impact statements and mitigation measures. Money from the General Fund would be used to pay off the bonds, including interest, which is estimated to be $1.4 billion over 25 years. If the proposition is not approved in the March 1996 primary election, it would be placed on the November 1996 general election ballot for another vote.

Arguments for: Proponents, including among others former Governor George Deukmejian and Chamber of Commerce President Kirk West, say that approval of this proposition will speed up the process of retrofitting state-owned bridges to meet seismic safety standards, which will save lives, reduce damage and improve the mobility of emergency vehicles and commercial traffic following an earthquake. Hundreds of earthquakes batter the state each year causing severe, hidden damage to the transportation system, particularly bridges and highway overpasses. Evidence that retrofitting works can be seen in Southern California, where every bridge strengthened with state-of-the-art technology survived the 1994 quake intact, according to the California Chamber of Commerce, the director of the state Office of Emergency Services and a retired California Highway Patrol commissioner. These supporters of Proposition 192 say that retrofitting costs one-tenth as much as rebuilding a bridge after it has collapsed. This bond measure will prevent diversion of funds from critically needed highway and passenger rail projects that otherwise are being shifted to earthquake safety repairs. Proposition 192 also will boost the economy by creating jobs.

Arguments against: Some taxpayer and environmental groups -- such as People's Advocate, the Sierra Club and Planning and Conservation League, among others -- say that Proposition 192 benefits the highway lobby and toll bridge authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area at the expense of taxpayers who already are paying for seismic retrofitting through the state's gas tax and tolls. Highway builders would benefit because the bonds would free up gas taxes to be spent on new freeway construction, and toll bridge authorities would not need to use their revenues to pay for needed repair work on Bay Area toll bridges. Opponents cite California's tradition of paying for highway and bridge repairs with current revenues and say that taxpayers should not be tricked into approving expensive long-term debt financing to subsidize new highway construction. Furthermore, opponents argue, the state's bonded indebtedness already is at a dangerous level and its bond rating could slip further if this measure passes.

For additional information please see:

Secretary of State Ballot Pamphlet

Campaign Finance Data from the Secretary of State

Original Legislation

California State Senate Office of Research

California League of Women Voters

Easy Reader Voter Guide

Related News Articles

California Department of Transporation Seismic Safety Information Page

Campaign Web Sites:

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