The Legislature has fewer than 100 days to pass a new water bond bill into law so that voters will have a clean, earmark-free bond to vote on in November. California’s water infrastructure, which serves more than 30 million people and irrigates nearly 6 million acres of farmland, is seriously outdated and in desperate need of repair.
Our state has not passed a water bond since 2006, and funding from that bond will ostensibly run out by next year. The Legislature has voted twice to postpone a statewide vote on a 2009 water bond deal that has been deemed unpassable because it is an $11.14 billion pork-barrel measure that was cobbled together in the dead of night in the backrooms of the Capitol.
Assembly Bill 1331, the Clean, Safe and Reliable Drinking Water Act of 2014, is the product of the most transparent and inclusive public process in the history of the state. I convened eight regional hearings to hear from residents in communities from Indio to Eureka about their concerns on a water bond and the state’s water crisis.
It’s clear that they don’t want the politics or the pork that has been the foundation of past bond negotiations. They want a water bond that will pay for projects that can maintain and supply clean and affordable water while protecting our coasts, rivers and watersheds.
AB 1331 should be earmark-free. I will fight to remove amendments, added Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, to reserve money for state conservancies.
Funding for projects should be allocated by using fair and reasonable regional criteria. Funding is set aside for non-project specific categories that include protecting the Delta, increasing water recycling, assisting disadvantaged communities, encouraging innovative water technology and improving water storage.
More than $3 billion in unnecessary spending in the 2009 bond deal was kept out of AB 1331 to make sure voters would get the leanest and most fiscally responsible water bond.
Specifically, AB 1331 contains $1 billion for maintaining and improving drinking water quality; $1.5 billion to protect rivers and watersheds; $1 billion for integrated regional water management that will improve regional self-reliance and reliability; $1 billion for recycling and conservation projects; $1 billion to protect the Delta as a critical element of the state water supply system and a key ecological resource; and $2.5 billion for surface and underground water storage projects that will ensure a reliable supply of water as we face less snow, more unpredictable floods and longer droughts caused by climate change.
Time is of the essence. By law, the Legislature and the governor must pass a new bond by June 26 to replace the earmark-laden 2009 bond deal that is on the November ballot. Stakeholders and legislators have been meeting for more than nine months on various issues that are addressed in AB 1331.
Waiting to finalize negotiations and pass a bond bill at the last minute invites the same brinksmanship that resulted in the legalized looting of taxpayer dollars in 2009. Missing the June 26 deadline will also force the state to incur more costs to print a supplemental ballot guide.
When the Legislature pushed the passage of the high-speed rail bond into August in 2008, it needlessly cost taxpayers $5 million to pay for a supplemental ballot guide that would have been avoided if it were passed on time.
Yes, there are significant issues still to be decided on a final bond measure. However, these decisions do not depend on factors that will change in June.
Final decisions on allocations for storage or Delta restoration are better made today with prevailing calm than in the chaos amid a state budget debate or at the edge of an impending legislative deadline.
More importantly, passing a clean and clear water bond now instead of in late June will give us more time to educate voters about the new bond in order to earn their support in November.
Californians deserve a water bond that is as clean and clear as the water they want coming out of their tap. We can and should get it done now.
Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, represents the 63rd Assembly District and is chairman of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.