Two of Gov. Jerry Brown's legacy projects were on the line Tuesday, as Californians decided whether to require a statewide vote for any state mega-project requiring $2 billion or more in revenue bonds.
If Californians approve the revenue-bond measure, Proposition 53, Brown's plans for $64 billion in high-speed rail and $15.7 billion for two giant tunnels that would carry Northern California water south may have to face their own statewide votes.
Brown, who is pushing to launch both projects before he leaves office in 2018, has made defeating the ballot measure a priority. That includes spending more than $4 million in campaign funds to help pay for a heavy rotation of television ads against it. The California Democratic Party, campaigning against the measure with Brown, has put in another $1.8 million to defeat it.
Proposition 53 would require voter approval of state projects financed by more than $2 billion in revenue bonds, which use revenue from tolls or other user fees to repay.
A prosperous Central Valley farmer and food-processor, Dean Cortopassi, funded the petition drive that brought Proposition 53 to the ballot.
Cortopassi argued that California officials currently have too much of a free hand undertaking large projects requiring revenue bonds.
The opposition campaign contended Cortopassi's measure could limit local control on big projects, and could hinder the state's ability to quickly repair infrastructure after an earthquake or other disaster.
Neither side based their campaign directly on the tunnels or high-speed rail projects.
California's bipartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, in its review of Proposition 53, said that other than those two projects, it was "unlikely there would be very many projects large enough to be affected" if the measure passes.
The tunnels project would build two, 35-mile conduits to more easily pipe water from Northern California's Sacramento River primarily for use by Central and Southern California cities and farms.