When it rains, I blog a whole lot.

More on “beneficiaries pay”.  I hadn’t seen the Pacific Institute’s powerpoint presentation on the water bond when I wrote up my last two posts. I think it raises some of the same questions: how does the state want to pay for the next round of water infrastructure?  One of the questions the Pacific Institute raises is a little more leading:

Question: Should the public or project users pay to fix ecosystem damages caused by past projects? (slide eight.)

Rather answers itself when it is put that way, doesn’t it?  Except that:

1.  “Project users” don’t want to pay, and the political fight would be long.

2.  Depending how you define the project users, they may not have the wealth (even if we could extract it) to pay to undo the ecosystem damage the projects have done.  Could take that much money out of the farming sector (yes, because there’s a fair amount of wealth in it), and still have it be a farming sector (maybe not, because that wealth isn’t very liquid and is bound up in land prices and big harvestors)?  Maybe it isn’t important that it remain a farming sector, but that’s a much more loaded policy question than, should the people who broke our rivers pay for fixing them ?  Or are the “project users” the SoCal cities (or a combination of both, of course)?  Easy for people in Northern California to say, but at this point you’re talking about more than half the people in the state.  So the half the people in Northern California and the central coast especially don’t want to pay for project ecosystem damage?  They’re the ones who get to live near the prettified Delta and see the salmon swim by.  These questions get hard fast, all the more so when you realize that most everyone here was born into an existing system and didn’t make any decisions about whether to have the water projects we do.

I don’t know my own answers (although I’m strongly in favor of better budgeting processes, so it doesn’t cost us money just to collect and spend money).  Probably my own real answer is: “We should all pay for projects I like, and “beneficiaries pay” should be a roadblock for projects I don’t like.”

***

On re-reading, I’m not sure exactly what the two issues that Prof.  Bass wanted to discuss.  These questions:

How can the private beneficiaries be distinguished from the public ones?

How does a suburban developer in Palmdale get separated from the person he sold a house to ten years ago?

Or the larger themes of the post:

Who isn’t helped by the collective projects in the water bond? and

Isn’t the “pork” in the water bond also job-generating stimulus?

Since he is still reading the water blogs all the way from his vacation in India, I’ll take a stab at those questions.

How can the private beneficiaries be distinguished from the public ones?

I dunno, man.  You look at a specific project, try to track down some of the externalities (positive and negative), see whether the money creates value that mostly accrues to a private person or in a fashion that isn’t widely accessible even if technically public.  This is the wrangling part, and I can’t see how it can be done in the abstract.

How does a suburban developer in Palmdale get separated from the person he sold a house to ten years ago?

Holy shit, I love this question.  I might have to give it its own post, especially if I divert into the rant that is raging in my head.

Who isn’t helped by the collective projects in the water bond?

Well, you could do a lot of bean counting, and eventually come up with a county that got the shaft in this water bond.  They end up paying more in re-paying the bonds than they get back in their own “pork” project.  Or you could do lots of accounting and figure out that some district did quite well for itself, paying out less than the local project was worth.  Presumably every legislator thinks she is in that category, or at least that it turned money into a nicely visible project.  I think there’d be lots of money flowing around the state, and it is very difficult to put money values on the resulting projects, so an accounting attempt along those lines wouldn’t end up being useful.

I think some people would say: sure, in the water world it is all sort of a wash, but the whole world isn’t water.  I know, I know.  I can barely talk to those freakshows either; I back away from them while making reassuring cooing sounds in case they are dangerous.  But they say things like “schools” and “hospitals” would provide more societal value for the bond money we would spend on water infrastructure.  I have no way to evaluate their incomprehensible claims.

Isn’t the “pork” in the water bond also job-generating stimulus?

Presumably, since paying people to twiddle their thumbs would be job-generating stimulus.  Don’t know if I think this is the best and fastest job-generating stimulus.  It’d take a couple years to get those projects in the construction phase.  If job generation were my only priority, I’d pay for fuels reduction in the Sierras, or arundo eradication, which could be started up very fast.  But yeah.  Those projects would hire a lot of people around the state.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “When it rains, I blog a whole lot.

  1. 1) Remember that a bad project (cost/ benefit) should NOT be done, no matter who pays.

    2) The water bond was going to fund a lot of those. Read more here: SD loses post…

  2. You can’t never go wrong cuttin’ arundo. As for fuel reduction, i am skeptical. if it is done poorly, it does much more harm than good, and it is often done poorly. I really think we might be better off just doing fuel reduction near structures and letting the rest fend for itself.