Our View: Don’t rush California water bond negotiations

09/05/2013 4:00 PM

09/05/2013 6:33 PM

With dry conditions igniting fires statewide and reservoirs dropping ever lower, state lawmakers should be thinking about water. The good thing – they are. They are thinking about a 2014 water bond.

Both chambers have produced legislation to rescind and scale back the bloated $11.14billion water bond that, if left unchanged, would head to the ballot in 2014 and face certain defeat. The total amounts would be $5.6billion in the Senate version vs. $6.5billion in the Assembly bill. Both would invest in clean drinking water, an issue that has risen in priority – particularly in the San Joaquin Valley – since the Legislature originally approved a bond proposal. Both have pots of money for water storage and watershed projection.

There are differences between these two pieces of legislation, both in substance and the process that produced them. Senate Bill 42, by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, was drafted following several stakeholder meetings, including ones with Wolk’s constituents in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. As a result, it includes $500million in proposed investments in Central Valley Flood Protection Plan projects, a priority for flood-threatened Delta and Sacramento residents. It also gives the Legislature more control over how storage money is spent, a priority for many environmental groups.

Assembly Bill 1331, by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, is larger in size than Wolk’s, and it followed a series of public hearings in the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, which Rendon chairs. Those hearings resulted in a set of principles for the bond that were released in July. Last week, Rendon released an amended version of Assembly Bill 1331 based on those earlier principles.

Both of these bills are solid frameworks for discussion on a new water bond. But, as is nearly always the case, the two chambers differ on how to march forward. The Assembly wants to push its bill through this session, even though the bill language has been in print for just over a week. Wolk says she is fine with waiting until 2014 to debate and enact final legislation.

Given the divides, the Legislature would be wise to hold off until next year. While Rendon fears that amendments during an election year could result in the bill being larded up with pork projects, the pressure will still be there to keep the numbers low – polling shows that voters won’t stomach a bond much higher than what Rendon has proposed. In addition, the frugal guy who occupies the governor’s office will want to keep the numbers down.

Extra time will also allow both chambers to improve their proposals and make it more likely that there is, eventually, a solid bond measure to put before California voters.

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