Tomato Tycoon Wants Voters to OK All Mega Infrastructure Projects

October 11, 2016

If Proposition 53 passes next month in California, every state building project requiring more than $2 billion or more in revenue bonds will have to be OK'd by voters - including previously approved projects.

"It's one of the most complex and unsexy initiatives on the ballot but it's probably one of the most important," said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the campaign to defeat Proposition 53. Maviglio calls the measure unworkable. "The main thing is it will hold up a lot of local infrastructure projects by letting other cities vote on it."

The California State Building and Construction Trades Council, and scores of local chambers, construction and other industry associations, unions and other groups have come out against Proposition 53.

Proposition 53 (full text here) was put forward by Dino Cortopassi, who has made his family fortune canning Central Valley tomatoes. He and his family have funded 100 percent of the $4.5 million campaign to get Prop 53 on the ballot.

The California Voter Approval Requirement for Revenue Bonds above $2 Billion Initiative, also known as Proposition 53, or the No Blank Checks Initiative by supporters, seeks to change the way California currently handles  infrastructure-related revenue bonds. Revenue bonds are now repaid using revenue from fees or other charges paid by the users of the project. For example, a revenue bond issued to build a highway could be repaid by mandating a toll for users of the highway. Under existing state law, revenue bonds do not require voter approval.

Voters are being asked to change state law so that revenue bonds will:

  • Require statewide voter approval before any revenue bonds can be issued or sold by the state for certain projects if the bond amount exceeds $2 billion.
  • Apply to any projects that are financed, owned, operated, or managed by the state, or by a joint agency formed between the state and a federal government agency, another state, and/or a local government.
  • Prohibit dividing projects into multiple separate projects to avoid statewide voter approval requirement.
  • Apply to previously approved projects if remaining bond amount exceeds $2 billion.

Opponents to the measure say the proposition doesn't contain an provisions for emergencies, natural disasters, and water supply/drought preparedness. Prop 53 would also require a statewide vote for some local projects, complicating the approval process.

Supporters of Prop 53 say the measure will close the loophole that allows politicians to issue massive new debt to pay for multi-billion dollar projects and ensure voters understand the full cost of future projects, including interest payments, that they are expected to pay.

For more  on Prop 53, go to