California Infrastructure Problems Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3139 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Economics

California Infrastructure

Infrastructure Problems in California

California is currently facing considerable infrastructure challenges. The state for example appears to be suffering from funding problems as well as other shortages such as water. The drought has compounded problems relating to water, for example. Indeed, serious social and political issues have arisen as a result of water shortages in the state.

According to some critics, the problems have resulted from resource mismanagement, and also from underfunded services and plans such as pension schemes. According to Thad Kousser (1), for example, the City of San Diego has pursued an unsustainable fiscal policy; one in which more money is spent than raised. This has led to illegitimately disguised, underfunded pension plans in the city.

The second major shortage problem, as indicated above, is water. Matt Weiser for example reports a 50-mile march by some 10,000 farmers and farm workers during 2009 across San Joaquin Valley to increase public awareness about their water crisis. The conflict is exacerbated by disagreement regarding a proposal for a canal around the Delta in order to secure water supply to the region and improving the environment during extended periods of drought.

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The canal would be fed by the Sacramento River; a further point of contention. The management of the canal is for example an issue. There are no specific plans in place regarding the dispensation of water to the canal, while critics are also concerned about the effect of the canal on the river itself. Meanwhile, the crisis continues, with the water shortage also threatening to severely affect the food supply in the country. San Joaquin Valley grows 40% of the country's produce, for example, but were to receive only 10% of its contracted federal water supply during 2009. Weiser also states that cities in the Bay area were to receive only 30% of their expected supply.

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The economic result is that 40,000 farm-related jobs would be lost, in addition to $1,15 billion of income, which in turn would translate to a significant loss of tax income for the state. The water problem, although not equally serious throughout the state, has serious consequences not only for California, but also countrywide.

According to Weiser, the irony is that there is enough fresh water for meeting human needs. The problem is its management. Indeed, California obtains much of its water from outside the state itself. This compounds the problem of funding for other needs in several cities in the state.

Although the situation appears to be somewhat gloomy, many believe that solutions can be found by making significant infrastructure changes in the state. One solution offered by Governor Schwarzenegger is for example to lower water usage per capita by 20% by the year 2020. Other solutions that have been offered include raising taxes and charging for services that are currently offered for free. It is however vitally important to consider the viability of these solutions before imposing them, as well as obtaining public opinion and support as far as possible. Furthermore, the various forms of government throughout the state need to work together in order to ensure both the success and viability of proposed solutions. To therefore establish the viability of solutions for the infrastructure problems in California, the functions of government and fiscal capacity will be investigated before offering solutions.

City Government Functions

According to the League of Women Voters of California, there are two forms of administrative organization in Californian cities; the council-manager and the mayor-council system. These are at the basis of a variety of city-government forms in the state. Most cities follow some form of the council-manager system. Under this system, the council is involved in political leadership, policymaking, and directing city departments to carry out policies. The system might function under a weak-mayor or strong-mayor system. In small communities, the weak-mayor system generally means that all department heads report to the council, with the mayor acting as the ceremonial head of the city. The strong-mayor system is usually used by large cities, where the mayor is elected by the people. The mayor in this system is required to elicit a high level of cooperation from the city government.

In terms of planning, most cities have municipal planning agencies that include a planning commission, city council, professional planning department, or a combination of these. All the cities in California are to develop a general plan that considers environmental impacts and capital improvement programs.

One fairly controversial function of planning commissions include redevelopment programs. In the state of California particularly, these programs attract nearly $4 billion in annual revenues. According to the League of Women Voters of California, more than 90% of cities in the state use redevelopment agencies.

Several city functions are also overseen and carried out by appropriate city boards and commissions. Many of the tasks involved in this way reflect the concerns of the community. Some boards could also be established on a temporary basis, to handle specific concerns and needs at a specific time. Some boards that reflect the concerns of the community include the civil service or personal board, and the park and recreation commission.

Intergovernmental cooperation is a very important aspect of infrastructure management. It is vital for city governments to work together with other levels of government to adequately manage infrastructure issues. Indeed, working together is standard procedure for city governments and other levels of government throughout the state.

Cities and counties are for example strongly linked by means of county assessment rolls and county tax collection services. County taxes may for example be applied towards city street construction, building and operating parks, libraries, and so on. When emergency situations arise, cities and counties often cooperate by means of combined emergency services.

This cooperation occurs under the Joint Exercise of Powers Act. Under this act, cities might cooperate with other cities, or contract with districts or counties to purchase services. City-county contracts in Los Angeles County for example includes fire protection, law enforcement, building inspection, hospitals, and so on. Since Preposition 13 in 1978, cities that contract for nearly all their municipal services have become a widespread phenomenon.

In terms of the legal relationship, local or municipal laws are not to conflict with state laws. Furthermore, the state sets standards relating to public health, safety, welfare, and the environment. Minimum standards apply to all cities in this regard, although exceptions may be allowed in some cases.

The state also grants considerable amounts of money to cities from tax levies. This is an important consideration in terms of infrastructure changes. Tax funds are allocated according to state legislature, and certain types of tax are to be allocated for specific purposes. Gas tax funds must for example be used for construction and maintenance of city streets. Under Proposition 13 of 1978, the ability of cities to raise revenue from property taxes have been considerably limited.

The federal government does not have much direct control over local municipalities in any state. The state or regional bodies can however obtain money from federal agencies to provide grants to local governments. Once again, this is an important consideration in terms of California's particular challenges in terms of water and other infrastructure issues. Cities can also receive direct federal grants and loans for infrastructure improvements such as community facilities, mass transportation, and redevelopment plans. Through such funding options, the federal government might exercise some degree of control over cities to for example enforce non-discriminatory housing or environmental improvement. This could be considered when addressing the water issue.

Fiscal and Tax Capacity

Robert Tannenwald notes that some states have rich potential tax bases, while others are less wealthy. Usually, these high potential tax bases relate to the high average income of residents. Other possible avenues of revenue include visitor attractions such as environmental beauty and high concentrations of extractable minerals or lumber. The relativity of fiscal capacity to fiscal need amounts to fiscal comfort within the state.

When applied to California, the residents in many cities have a higher income than average, while tax revenues are lower than elsewhere. This is an issue that could be addressed by the possible solutions offered for California's infrastructure problems. Furthermore, California also has a large tourist visitor capacity as a result of cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. These attractions could bring further revenues.

According to Tannenwald, companies that rely on tourism for their business can also rely on customers for a large amount of their tax burden. Catering for tourists from around the world means that the state's tax capacity is raised by means of income from sources outside the state itself. These capacities supplement personal income when considering California's tax capacity.

Tannenwald also explains the concept of fiscal need. Fiscal need is created when a large amount of poor or school-age citizens reside in a state. Primary and secondary education as well as public welfare will create fiscal need. Furthermore, infrastructure problems such as California's water problems, and San Diego's pension fund problems create a fiscal need… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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