No on 51: Don’t rob state to pay for pet projects

Should part of existing revenues from motor vehicle sales and
leases be siphoned from the state’s beleaguered general fund and
earmarked for pork barrel transportation projects?
Should part of existing revenues from motor vehicle sales and leases be siphoned from the state’s beleaguered general fund and earmarked for pork barrel transportation projects?

The fiscally responsible answer is no, which is precisely how voters should respond to Proposition 51.

This measure would redirect 30 percent of the taxes from the lease or sale of motor vehicles. These funds currently go into the general fund. Under Proposition 51, the redirected money would finance specific transportation and environmental improvements.

Proposition 51 would shift approximately $420 million from the general fund in 2002-03, $910 million in 2003-04, and increasing amounts in later years, depending on the revenue stream from motor vehicle sales and leases. Where would these funds go? To 45 specific purposes, such as school bus safety, clean-air programs, mass transit improvements, highway improvements, including bus purchases, commuter and light rail expansion.

While these may be worthy projects, the state has no business committing scarce funds to them, having just resorted to a series of smoke and mirrors to balance its budget. Ballot-box budgeting is bad enough during good economic times. Carving out a huge chunk of the general fund for certain projects when times are tough is reckless.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office projects large budget deficits for years to come. Proposition 51 could lock up billions of dollars during these years. It’s akin to a family setting aside thousands of dollars for a series of home improvements when it can barely make the monthly mortgage payment.

Budget crises require maximum flexibility to fund programs that might otherwise suffer deep cuts. Proposition 51 would reduce that flexibility by billions of dollars. It rates a No vote on Nov. 5.

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