SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A California ballot measure that could put two of Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy projects on the line was in a near-dead heat in early vote-counting Tuesday.
With more than 4 million votes counted, the vote against Proposition 53 stood at 50.1 percent
The ballot measure would make the state get voter approval before launching any state project needing $2 billion or more in revenue bonds.
Brown supports a $64 billion high-speed rail project and two proposed giant tunnels costing $15.7 billion to carry Northern California water for use by Central and Southern California cities and farms.
Those projects could be sent back to voters for approval if the proposition passed.
Brown, who is pushing both projects before he leaves office in 2018, made defeating the ballot measure a priority. His support included spending more than $4 million from his old campaign funds to help pay for a heavy rotation of television ads against the proposition.
The California Democratic Party, campaigning against the measure with Brown, put in another $1.9 million to defeat it.
A prosperous Central Valley farmer and food-processor, Dean Cortopassi, funded the petition drive that brought Proposition 53 to the ballot.
Cortopassi argued that California officials currently have too much of a free hand undertaking large projects requiring revenue bonds.
“I call it cockroach debt,” Cortopassi said before the vote.
Cockroaches and revenue bonds, he said, “are born and expand in the dark. You want to get rid of cockroaches? Turn on the light.”
Opponents of the proposition contended that Cortopassi’s measure could limit local control on big projects.
Brown opposed Proposition 53 because it is “a terrible idea that would cause costly delays in repairing our roads, colleges, and water systems— and also make it harder to respond to natural disasters,” Dan Newman, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email.
Neither side based their campaign directly on the tunnels or high-speed rail project.
However, California’s bipartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, in its review of Proposition 53, said that other than those two projects, it was “unlikely there would be very many projects large enough to be affected” if the measure passed.
The state already requires public votes on projects using general-obligation bonds, which are secured by taxes. Revenue bonds are repaid using tolls or similar fees from users of the projects.