Governor Brown, Most California Newspapers Oppose Proposition 53

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. and newspapers statewide are recommending that voters reject California Chamber of Commerce-opposed Proposition 53, which requires a statewide election each and every time the state or a state-local partnership seeks to issue revenue bonds exceeding $2 billion to pay for infrastructure projects.

General obligation bonds appropriately require a vote of the people, because the risk of default is on the taxpayers. But the risk for default of revenue bonds is on the bondholders, which makes a statewide vote unsuitable, the CalChamber argues. Moreover, this measure would subject strictly local infrastructure measures to a statewide vote, including voters who have no financial or social stake in the local project.

On October 27, the No on 53 campaign released an ad in which Governor Brown urges voters to defeat the dangerously flawed Proposition 53, the ballot measure that threatens local control and jeopardizes local infrastructure projects.

“53 is paid for by one millionaire, but it’s opposed by almost everyone else — firefighters, nurses, newspapers and hundreds of organizations,” says Governor Brown. “We say No on 53 because it’s bad for California.

CalChamber Reasons for Position

Proposition 53 will stop or delay vital public works construction projects, including those involving water security and highway improvements, by adding an unnecessary level of cost, bureaucracy and delay to a process that is already bogged down. The measure will severely cripple a widely used and fiscally responsible financing mechanism.

By not including an exemption for emergencies or natural disasters, Proposition 53 irresponsibly removes a tool proven to be critical in responding to emergencies. Proposition 53 also would encourage litigation and increase the ability of special interests to leverage major infrastructure projects for their own purposes.

Following are excerpts from newspaper editorials opposing Proposition 53.

The Bakersfield Californian: Vote NO: Prop. 53 is not taxpayer ‘protection’ “California taxpayers should be concerned about an increasing state debt. But Prop. 53 is clearly not about controlling debt. It is about stopping California’s progress. August 25, 2016

Contra Costa Times, which was consolidated with The Oakland Tribune to form East Bay Times in March 2016: Cortopassi measure to scuttle Delta tunnels is a disaster “Voters shouldn’t lock into law any proposition leaving this much uncertainty, especially since it would require two-thirds approval to change or overturn it, even though it can pass initially with a simple majority. The governor is dead wrong about his $15 billion-and-counting Delta plan. But when he calls Cortopassi’s ballot measure ‘a really bad idea’ — that’s an understatement.” November 6, 2015

East Bay Times: Reject Prop 53, requiring statewide revenue bond approval “But Cortopassi’s poorly constructed measure lacks clarity, making it impossible to determine which projects would need voter approval and which would not. That will be up to the courts, not voters.” July 21, 2016

Los Angeles Times: The problem Proposition 53 aims to solve is speculative, but the damage it could inflict is very real “The problem that Proposition 53 aims to solve is speculative, but the potential damage to local control is real. Requiring state voters to approve large revenue bond issues would make it more difficult to make badly needed infrastructure improvements in this state, and could even discourage the public-private partnerships that could help fill the gap between what the state needs to build and what it can afford.” September 15, 2016

The Mercury News (San Jose): Reject Prop 53, requiring statewide revenue bond approval “Once ballot measures become law, they’re nearly impossible to fix. And this one’s likely to be a doozie. Vote no on Proposition 53.” August 11, 2016

Monterey Herald: Vote no on Proposition 53, which would just add new problems “California taxpayers should be concerned about increasing state debt. But Prop. 53 is clearly not about controlling debt. It’s about stopping California’s progress and would bring with it a host of unintended consequences. Vote “no” on Prop. 53.” September 3, 2016

The Record (Stockton): Voters faced with 17 state ballot measures “Vote no. While Cortopassi has some good intentions with this proposition and spending must be controlled, the $2 billion threshold for a public vote is restrictive.” October 15, 2016

The Sacramento Bee: Beware of quick fix offered by wealthy farmer’s initiative “But in the guise of combating government debt, Proposition 53 could increase construction costs and add unnecessary layers of complexity and uncertainty to an already unwieldy state government. And voters have a solution if they conclude that legislators abuse revenue bonds: They can vote them out of office.” September 6, 2016

Santa Cruz Sentinel: Vote no on Proposition 53, which would just add new problems “But practically every major player and organization in state politics is also opposed, including the California Chamber of Commerce and state labor leaders, who aren’t often in agreement.” September 4, 2016

The San Diego Union-Tribune: No on Prop. 53: It’s a cumbersome mess “But whatever his motive, his ballot measure is a mess. It is so poorly written that it doesn’t even define “project,” according to a Legislative Analyst’s Office’s analysis. A local government that wanted to build a major infrastructure project might have to put its plan before all state voters if it got even limited state assistance. And Proposition 53 doesn’t exempt emergency repairs following earthquakes or disasters. We urge a no vote on Proposition 53. It must not become the latest flawed ballot initiative that makes the state more difficult to govern. September 13, 2016

San Francisco Chronicle: A one-man crusade isn’t the way to run California’s finances “It could get even more twisted. To avoid the need for a state vote, a public agency might seek private financing, which costs more than public borrowing. There’s also the fear factor. Instead of taking on a project to improve a port, widen a bridge or build a medical center, public agencies might do nothing to avoid the uncertainty of a statewide vote that might be two years away. The problems with initiatives like this one are almost too many to list.” August 31, 2016

San Francisco Examiner: Examiner Endorsements: Statewide ballot measures “This measure would require state votes to approve local projects — a bad idea.” October 23, 2016

Ventura County Star: Prop. 53 is bad idea that should be rejected “One of the proposition’s many problems is that once it is part of the constitution, it also could stop future worthwhile projects. It would require statewide votes on revenue bond projects that might benefit only a small area of the state and are supported by those residents. Why should someone in Ventura be voting on a revenue bond project for a big ticket item in Shasta County?” September 26, 2016

More Information

For more information on Proposition 53, visit

To view all CalChamber positions on the General Election ballot measures, visit