Capitol Alert

Vote looming, California GOP lawmakers contemplate new $7.5 billion offer for water bond

As California lawmakers sped toward a vote on a new water bond on Wednesday, Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown extended a new $7.5 billion offer in hopes of securing necessary Republican votes.

Brown initially argued for a $6 billion price tag but on Tuesday pledged his support, along with Democratic leadership, for a $7.2 billion compromise that included $2.5 billion for storage. That was not enough to mollify Republicans who have withheld needed support as they await more money for large-scale storage projects like dams.

The latest offer includes an additional $200 million for water storage projects, bringing the total for storage to $2.7 billion. Republicans have consistently demanded more money for surface storage, ideally enough to build two large-scale reservoirs capable of better sustaining California through another drought.

Emerging from a Republican caucus meeting on Wednesday morning, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, said talks were “a day late and a dollar short” but sounded hopeful Republicans could hammer out a deal with Brown.

“I do believe there’s a little difference here on the dollars that we’ve been talking about, and we’ve got to get those dollars before we move to any position,” Bigelow said, adding that Republicans still want something in the area of $3 billion for storage.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said talks were “on the five-yard line.”

“The governor knows where our folks are,” Peter DeMarco said.

The new bond would replace an $11.1 billion version currently slated for the ballot. Most lawmakers now reject that measure, calling it too costly and laden with outlays for various interests, and Brown has said he would campaign against it.

Another pivotal negotiation point involved Brown’s highly contentious plan to drill two massive water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, allowing water to flow to farms and cities in southern California without passing through the Delta’s precarious ecosystem.

Democratic leadership insisted that any bond must be “tunnel neutral.” Environmentalists and lawmakers argued that in order to not advance the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a bond must be carefully crafted so it does not fund the environmental mitigation required for the tunnel project to win approval.

As of Wednesday morning, the Delta provisions in the bond had the support of key figures like Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who has been a champion of Delta interests.

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