Commentary

07/26/2013  by Ed Coghlan

California infrastructure—the next California budget challenge?


(photo credit: Brett Fairless)

Drive over the state’s bumpy roads, think about how old our bridges are, and take a look at the condition of your neighborhood school’s buildings. Try to get an internet connection while you’re at it.

What does all this have in common?

It’s all part of California's infrastructure—the vital, long-neglected backbone of the state’s economy, which many of us think has been overlooked for too long.

Infrastructure could very well be the state's next big budget challenge. To meet the needs of a growing population, California must invest more than $750 billion in public works over the next ten years.

The problem is the state doesn't have that kind of money.

Just so you know (and this will relieve many of you), we can't borrow our way out of this problem, it's too big. The state and local governments can't raise taxes enough to solve the problem either. After decade-long fiscal crisis that has forced the state to put off making long-term investments, California’s transportation infrastructure needs alone are estimated to top $500 billion over the next ten years.

This all sounds pretty policy wonky until you hit a pothole, or until your child's school needs repair or replacement or until a water main near your house breaks—or, yes, until you need a broadband connection to do business or check a baseball score.

We draw your attention to a really good story written by California Forward's Justin Ewers which ran on our sister website, caeconomy.org  this week. It offers some history about how we have approached building this state and shares some thoughtful ideas about what we ought to do next. Ewers highlights the findings of a new California Forward report that compiles the last 15 years’ of expert recommendations about how the state can develop a smart approach to infrastructure investments. We think it's worth a read.

By the way, Infrastructure has been identified as one of the seven signature initiatives for improving job creation and the state's ability to compete in a global marketplace by the California Economic Summit which will be held in Los Angeles on November 7-8. We didn't wave a wand and come up with these ideas. They emerged from sixteen regional meetings around the state, where local Californians shared their own ideas about the best ways to improve the economy.

And what was one constant theme from across California? We have to fix the state’s existing infrastructure. That means starting to figure out a way to pay for the next generation of investments in everything from our aging water system to the public transit projects that we need to get us to our jobs.

California Forward, along with our partners at the California Stewardship Network, have been leading this Summit effort for a couple of years now.

Our organization is aiming to be a catalyst for change in California, and we’ve targeted the creation of middle class jobs as one of our priorities. Why? Because creating jobs and improving the state's economy is job one in every public opinion poll that you read. More and better jobs can restore the California dream for the 21st century.

We’re working on a lot of other stuff too, but we'll save some of that for future posts.

Tell us what you think the top infrastructure needs are—and how (or whether) you are willing to pay for it!

Categories: Californians, Accountability

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