Surfacing with only 11 days left in the legislative session, Senate Bill 845 was gutted and amended to propose a mandate that more than 3,000 local community water agencies in California solicit and collect a contribution for safe drinking water on behalf of the state and send the money to Sacramento. Residential and business customers would pay the contribution on their water bills unless they elected to opt out or pay a different amount.
No one involved opposes a fund to help ensure that all Californians have safe drinking water (“Speaker Rendon, allow a vote on clean water,” Editorial, Aug. 24). The question has been about the sources of the funding.
Written by proponents of the statewide water tax that the Legislature rejected earlier this year, the SB 845 twist does not sound that bad until you start thinking about how it would actually work – and in this case, not work.
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Instead of having one state agency collect the voluntary fee, it would require more than 3,000 local water systems to change their billing systems and hire new employees to manage collection of the contributions, all at significant expense. This proposal is completely inefficient and would make water less affordable across the state.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply add one new voluntary contribution check-off to the state income tax form so the California Franchise Tax Board could collect the money at a much lower cost.
When the Legislature rejected the statewide water tax in June, it set aside $23.5 million in general fund money for safe drinking water. That occurred the same month when California voters approved Proposition 68, which provides $250 million in new funding for safe drinking water, prioritized for disadvantaged communities.
In November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 3, which would include an additional $500 million for safe drinking water, again targeted at disadvantaged communities.
Neither a statewide tax nor SB 845 is a reasonable solution to fund safe drinking water. It is not necessary to force 3,000 community water systems to do a job for a state program that one agency already can perform. SB 845 would be counter-productive because it would result in high administrative costs and work against water affordability. Legislators should reject this last-minute proposal.
Charlie Hoppin, the owner of Hoppin Family Farms in Sutter and Yolo counties, is a former chairman of the State Water Resources Control Board. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.