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Where is all the money for dams?

As a taxpayer, I have some basic expectations. When I dial 9-1-1 I want a police officer or firefighter to arrive at my house as quickly as possible. I expect streets and roads to be drivable, and traffic signals to work properly. I want clean water when I turn on the faucet, and I expect it all to go away when I flush. And I would like the local dam to not fall apart. Californians pay a lot of taxes to cover these services, and will happily pay the user fees necessary to pay for items that are not covered by our taxes.

California taxpayers pay dearly to live and work here. We pay the highest state sales tax and the highest personal income tax in the nation. We rank at number five for gasoline tax, but when you add in the cap and trade tax we move up several rankings. Our business community suffers with the highest corporate tax rate in the west. Only seven other states have a higher top corporate tax rate in the nation. One could only imagine what our property taxes would be were it not for Prop. 13.

What do we receive for all these taxes? The largest pot of our money goes to education. Over 50 percent of general fund spending, or about $66 billion, goes to fund kindergarten through college programs. Next up is health and human services spending at $34 billion. Last on the list of big-money general fund spending is corrections and rehabilitation, our prison system, at $11 billion. Those three areas of spending account for 91 percent of the general fund expenditures laid out in Gov. Brown's initial 2017-18 State Budget.

But where is the infrastructure spending? you might ask. Revenues for maintaining our highways, bridges and maybe even a dam or two come in from many different sources. For transportation funding we pay a gasoline excise tax, there is the cap and trade tax and this year a proposed Road Improvement Charge that will levy a new fee on all vehicles.

Investment in infrastructure should be a core function of what our state government does. But as California has increased the level of programmatic spending, we have relied on debt financing in the form of bond authorization to pay for building and maintaining our state's physical infrastructure. And California taxpayers seem to be willing to vote for them.

In 2014, California voters passed Prop. 1, The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act, which authorized $7.545 billion in general obligation bonds. Surely that is enough money for vital maintenance of our state water system. Most of Prop. 1 dollars, though, go to programs like protecting rivers and lakes, clean water, and water recycling. The largest chunk, $2.7 billion, falls under the control of the California Water Commission for statewide water system operational improvements. However, projects eligible for that pot must "provide measurable improvements to the Delta ecosystem or to tributaries to the Delta." Not sure dams would qualify.

California has a reported statewide-deferred infrastructure maintenance need of over $78 billion. Transportation and water resource needs alone account for $70 billion of that. And yet year after year Sacramento continues to focus on issues that don't seem to have any impact on improving the state's infrastructure needs. The 2017 California Five-Year Infrastructure Plan lays out spending priorities that total $43 billion. The plan continues to rely heavily on debt financing and requires agencies to incorporate climate change into all infrastructure planning. The plan lays out spending for high-speed rail and instead of focusing on updating and maintaining the State Water Project, decades old, talks about damaged ecosystems, open space protection and public recreational opportunities. Not exactly what California taxpayers are looking for as they watch their state crumble around them.

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