Water bond will be a tough sell

At a press conference last week, Gov. Schwarzenegger predicted an energetic campaign to pass the state water bond, including bipartisan groups of legislators “traveling up and down the state” to work for its passage.

It’ll need that. And more. Because asking voters to plunk down $11 billion in new spending while we’re knee-deep in deficits is a dicey proposition.

Actually, come to think of it, having Schwarzenegger and lawmakers stumping for the bond is probably a bad idea. Schwarzenegger’s approval rating is in the toilet; the Legislatures’ is a bit further down that drain. Not exactly the best messengers. Just imagine the fun editorial cartoonists would have with a legacy “Arnold Schwarznegger Canal” or dam.

In this campaign, opponents will have a simple case to make, as NO campaigns always do: The state can’t afford it.

With another round of billion dollar deficits likely to dominate the spring and summer news in Sacramento, opponents on the right can paint the bond as another classic example of Sacramento overspending. It’s an easy sell to show how adding another mortgage to your bills when you can’t pay your first mortgage isn’t a fiscally prudent move. Especially in a gubernatorial election year when the focus is expected to be almost exclusively on the the state budget.

On the left, unions, including SEIU and possibly CTA, will say the debt service will force billions in new cuts in education and other state services. As AFSCME’s Willie Pelote Sr. put it to the Sacramento Bee: “It’s absolutely wrong and irresponsible.”

Fortunately, several of the “Christmas Tree” earmarks were sliced out of the bond bill in the Assembly, including an aquarium in Sacramento (really, what were they thinking?). But there still is some political pork for opponents to stick a fork into.

Sprinkle the “no” argument with opposition from the Sierra Club and you have a potent campaign that has appeals to penny-pinchers on the right and tree-huggers on the left.

On the yes side, proponents message is equally simple: California cannot afford not to pass the bond.

Attack the economic and spending argument by pointing to the potential creation of thousands of jobs on water projects and infrastructure, and how the bond will rescue California agriculture. Cue to TV images on guys in hard hats and farmers in the fields.

(Note to water bond proponents: before you even buy office furniture, the first campaign check should be written to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation. Jon Coupal, the Foundation’s director, has hemmed and hawed on this thoughts on the bond. Translation: he’s open for business on support.)

Throw in some doomsday predictions that appeal to suburban lawn waterers, pool lovers, and those of us who like long showers, and it may be enough to appeal to the vote-heavy suburbs of LA, San Diego, and Silicon Valley. (Recommended visuals: Dust Bowl scenes, low water levels at Folsom Lake, dried up crops in the field juxtapositioned with kids being splashed by fire hydrants, athletes slurping bottles of bubbly water, and skiers enjoying their manufactured powder).

To ward off green attacks, there are a handful of environmental groups that supported the bond, like the Environmental Defense Fund. There’s also goodies on climate change and dollars for nature conservancies to win over greenies.

This will be an expensive and hard-fought campaign. And both sides can rightly argue that California’s economic future is at stake.

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