Capitol Alert

Push for drinking water tax dies in the California Legislature

An effort to impose a “voluntary” water tax on residents to pay for safe drinking water projects died in the Legislature on Friday.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said “a piecemeal funding approach” to the problem “won’t work.”

“The Assembly is committed to identifying a sustainable funding source to ensure safe drinking water for all Californians,” Rendon said in a statement. ”Building on the hard work of Senator Bill Monning and others in this area, Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia and Heath Flora have agreed to lead our house’s safe water efforts.”

State lawmakers are hesitant to support any new tax increase after Republicans successfully recalled Sen. Josh Newman in June, linking the Fullerton Democrat to the $52 billion gas tax to fund road repairs from 2017.

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After failing to win approval of a mandatory tax on water bills earlier this year, Monning introduced a new pair of bills that would apply a voluntary levy on ratepayers of less than $1 per month a few weeks ago. Senate Bill 844 and 845, which were backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would also establish a required tax on dairies and fertilizer manufacturers.

The politicians gave customers the ability to opt-out of the fee on their water bills to increase the legislation’s chances of success, but ultimately the change wasn’t enough to convince hesitant lawmakers to approve a tax hike in an election year. The bills were expected to generate as much as $100 million per year.

Monning said he was “deeply disappointed” that the bills were not heard in the Assembly and pledged to continue his efforts next year.

“I do want to assure you that our fight is not over,” he said. “It is not over until we win the support necessary to fulfill the fundamental human right to water for all Californians.”

The state has reported that more than 1 million residents face potential exposure to unsafe water, largely in low-income communities, without the funding to fix the problems. A 2018 McClatchy investigation similarly found that 360,000 Californians are served by water systems that violate state standards for nitrates, arsenic, uranium and other pollutants.