SACRAMENTO — Voters overwhelmingly passed the two state ballot measures pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown: A $7.5 billion water bond that will pay for water recycling and new storage systems but do little to bring relief to Californians affected by the drought, and a rainy day fund designed to cushion the state during financial hard times.
Prop 1 will pay for water recycling, new storage systems — possibly dams — and groundwater monitoring. It was sold to voters in tandem with Prop. 2, the rainy-day fund, which will set aside millions of dollars in the state budget each year to avoid the kind of financial meltdown that sank California during the recession. Brown made the two ballot measures his key priorities in this election, campaigning more for the two propositions than he did for himself and contributing $3.3 million from his barely-touched campaign coffers toward their passage.
“Water is life. It’s the basis of our well being, and also our economy,” Brown said outside the governor’s mansion in Sacramento. “So, Proposition 1 will give help us make some key investments to strengthen our water reliability and make sure those people in the Central Valley who have to use buckets to take a shower can get water out of their tap.”
Lawmakers had twice removed a more costly water bond from the ballot amid low approval ratings, but returned this year with a smaller pitch that earned support from a wide array of groups — agriculture, business, labor, environmental and wildlife organizations — with long histories of fighting one another over the state’s water supply.
But that unity in no way signals a truce moving forward. Many who have followed California’s water wars say they anticipate fierce lobbying over how the funds are spent, particularly when it comes to $2.7 billion for storage.
The storage money was a requirement to earn votes from Republicans and Central Valley Democrats who support two long-sought reservoirs they say are needed to capture runoff during wet years to use during the dry years. The bond could pay for a portion of the two reservoirs: Temperance Flat on the upper San Joaquin River in Fresno County and Sites Reservoir near the town of Maxwell in Colusa County.
Prop. 1 opponents argued that the amount of water either reservoir would produce is not worth the money it would take to build them and questioned whether taxpayers should subsidize dams that mostly benefit private agriculture businesses.
The water bond also includes money for water recycling projects, groundwater monitoring and cleanup, watershed restoration, and flood management.
California lawmakers created a rainy-day fund in 2004, but the recession hit soon after and the state stopped contributing to it. Brown said Prop. 2 was needed to replace the seldom-used current fund with a model that captures unexpected revenue spikes in capital gains, the taxable profits earned from the sale of investments such as stock or real estate.
Socking away those revenues spikes reduces the state’s tendency to spend the one-time funds on ongoing projects that then strain the state’s finances during down years.
Under Prop. 2, the state will set aside 1.5 percent of the general fund each year to put into the rainy-day fund — which is half of the current requirement.
Voters rejected Prop. 45, a measure that would have given the state insurance commissioner the power to approve or reject health insurance rate changes.
“It turns out $57.5 million of false and negative advertising by the health insurers actually has an impact on voters, unfortunately," said state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.
Voters also rejected Prop. 46, one of the most controversial initiatives on the ballot. It sought to require drug testing for doctors and increased payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits. Prop. 46 was pushed by Consumer Watchdog and plaintiff attorneys to address a long-stagnant cap of $250,000 on pain and suffering damages awarded in medical malpractices cases. Prop. 46 would have increased those payments to $1.1 million.
Doctors, hospitals and medical malpractice insurance companies poured more than $101 million into fighting Props 45 and 46— ten times as much as suppporters of the two measures.
“Whenever you overwhelm the marketplace of ideas with tens of millions of dollars in a low-turnout election, it’s not hard to get voters to vote no,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor of law at Loyola University. and an expert on money in politics. “Plus (the ballot measures) were flawed.”
Still, Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court said the defeats were “only a bump in the road. This issue will be back.”
Voters approved Prop. 47, a measure that would reduce some sentences for drugs and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Voters rejected Prop. 48, which would have allowed the North Fork Tribe of Mono Indians to build a casino on newly acquired land on the outskirts of the Central Valley city of Madera (Madera County).
The measure rejected the compact California lawmakers reached with the tribe in 2013 allowing the casino to be built. Competing gaming tribes and antigambling activists initiated the ballot measure to scrap the casino plans, saying it sets a bad precedent for “reservation shopping.”
“Californians showed tonight that they aren't anti-gaming, but they don't want unlimited gaming,” said Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up California and proponent of the No on Prop. 48 campaign. “Californians put the ball squarely in the legislature's court to make a consistent and comprehensive gaming policy”.
Melody Gutierrez and Joe Garofoli are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. E-mail: [email protected] and [email protected]. Twitter: @MelodyGutierrez @joegarofoli