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Water bond facing rewrites

An aerial view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The ink was barely dry on the governor’s budget before new legislation emerged in the Legislature to rewrite a multibillion-dollar water bond on the November ballot.

Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, introduced SB 848 on Jan. 9, which would ask voters for permission to borrow some $6.475 billion for an array of water projects. The contents of the bill reflect discussions that have been going on for months in the Capitol and is similar to legislation authored earlier by Wolk.

Two days earlier, Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, who is carrying a $6.5 billion water bond bill, AB 1331, put amendments into his measure in the Senate, which is considering his bill.

Either bill would dramatically reduce the price tag on the existing water bond scheduled to go before voters on Nov. 4. Discussions over the water bond have been ongoing in the Capitol for years.

The issue is intensifying as California emerges from the driest year on record and faces the possibility of a dry 2014.

Rendon is chair of the Assembly Water Committee and Wolk heads a select Senate committee on the Delta. Wolk’s bill is co-authored by Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Either bill would dramatically reduce the price tag on the existing water bond scheduled to go before voters on Nov. 4. Discussions over the water bond have been ongoing in the Capitol for years.

Originally destined for the 2010 ballot but delayed twice, it would borrow some $11.14 billion to make build storage capacity, improve recycling, levees, treat wastewater, improve drinking water standards and restore environmental safeguards in areas such as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. It includes some $2.25 billion for Delta protections and $3 billion for storage, and some money would be used to perform preliminary work on the twin-tunnels project to move more water through the delta.

The question is whether a smaller bond can win legislative support, which means two-thirds votes in each house, and a signature by the governor. A two-thirds vote also is required to remove the existing bond from the ballot. Ultimately, voters will decide.

The proposal, opposed by a number of environmentalists and north state lawmakers, was delayed in part by fears that voters would be leery of voting for borrowing during the recession and in part on the potential political impact on campaigns. Supporters had hoped that the measure stood a chance of passing as the economy improved. Now, even though there have been improvements in the economy, the focus is on a bond with a lower price tag.

The question is whether a smaller bond can win legislative support, which means two-thirds votes in each house, and a signature by the governor. A two-thirds vote also is required to remove the existing bond from the ballot.  Ultimately, voters will decide.
Wolk on Tuesday told the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee that “with a two-thirds vote (required) we need consensus to achieve anything. This will only happen with the support of the governor, and we don’t know which direction the governor wishes to move.”
Supporters of the bond include water agencies around the state.

Last week, Gov. Brown, asked about the November water bond, said only that “the world is changing with these serious drought conditions, but I think I’ll withhold judgment on that.”

“Everyone agrees that the path to success lies with trimming this bond down and coming up with a better bond,” said Timothy Quinn of the Association of California Water Agencies, which represents some 440 entities that deliver an estimated 90 percent of the water used in the state. ACWA earlier proposed an $8.2 billion bond.

But the size of the price tag is not the only issue involved in the bond discussion. For delta advocates, the governor’s twin-tunnels project is at the core of the debate.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta said her advocacy group “opposes any state water bond measure that includes any funding to mitigate damage caused by the governor’s proposed Peripheral Tunnels to export water.”

Last week, Gov. Brown, asked about the November water bond, said only that “the world is changing with these serious drought conditions, but I think I’ll withhold judgment on that.” Brown, who is up for reelection at the same time the bond is scheduled to appear on the ballot, has not taken a public position on whether he supports the bond’s current level or whether he would support a downsized version of the bond. The differences in price tags in part represent the amounts targeting storage and Delta restoration.

Earlier language for a continuous appropriation for the project also has been dropped, at least temporarily.

Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, the chair of the Senate water committee, made it clear the dispute over the bonds would be intense.

“You all know the politics of this place: two-thirds votes. There will be a lot of discussion on this issue,” she said.

Ed’s Updates through0ut with comment from Senate committee hearing. Notes that content of Wolk’s bill reflects negotiations in the Capitol and is similar to her earlier legislation, 2nd graf.

 

 

 

 


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