Archive for April, 2012
State Political Update
The political discussion in Sacramento is being dominated by a number of significant topics: tax proposals, the budget, public employee pension reform, and the water bond. While the water bond has maintained a lower profile, water policy issues have not taken a backseat on the political agenda of the California Legislature or the Governor. Both the 2012 Water Bond and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan have garnered significant discussion and key decisions are forthcoming.
Governor Brown Tax Initiative
To address the deficit, Governor Brown has all but staked his governorship on his tax initiative slated for the November 2012 ballot. For months, Governor Brown has been working to convince backers of competing initiatives to walk away from their initiatives and back his. Brown has said that he believes that multiple tax proposals on the same ballot would confuse or divide voters and would result in all of the measures failing. After a months-long feud with some of his liberal allies, on March 15th, Governor Brown reached an agreement with the California Federation of Teachers in order to eliminate one of the rival tax initiatives and to pave the way for joint support of a single tax measure on the November ballot.
The Governor’s new initiative combines the Governor’s tax initiative with the “Millionaires Tax” initiative which was supported by the California Federation of Teachers and other groups. The new initiative involves a smaller sales tax hike and a larger tax increase on the wealthy than what the Governor’s original initiative called for. The new plan would raise the statewide sales tax by a quarter-cent rather than a half-cent per every dollar. It retains Brown’s three-tier income-tax hike starting at $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for couples, but the last two brackets increase by greater amounts than Brown originally proposed, with the highest rate rising to 12.3 percent starting at $500,000 of income for single filers. The monies would not go directly to the State’s general fund, but will instead help fund education, public safety realignment, and other items thereby relieving pressure on the State’s general fund for other priorities.
Brown must still contend with an initiative filed by wealthy attorney Molly Munger. Munger’s rival tax plan for the November ballot would raise an estimated $10 billion for schools and early childhood development programs by increasing personal income rates on a sliding scale for Californians making more than $7,316.
A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll was released at the end of March that shows that California voters support the governor’s tax proposal. Of those surveyed, 64 percent said they supported the governor’s measure, which he hopes to place on the November ballot. A third of respondents opposed the measure. Views of the governor’s initiative are split along party lines; while 80 percent of Democrats approve of the measure, only 38 percent of Republicans expressed support. The measure also has the firm backing of independents, who are more than 20 percent of the California electorate and whose support Brown will likely need to pass his measure.
On March 29, Legislative Republicans unveiled a budget plan that relies on cutting state worker pay, eliminating affordable housing funds and using pots of money dedicated for mental health and childhood development. The plan eliminates the state’s $9.2 billion deficit and focuses on funding public education at the same levels proposed by Governor Brown but without a tax increase or the threat of automatic spending cuts to schools if voters reject the governor’s tax initiative this fall.
Republicans argue that it remains possible to balance the state budget without new taxes as the economy recovers and revenues grow. However, their proposal includes borrowing and one-time patches that the Governor says he wants to stop with his November tax hike. To erase the deficit, Republicans are building off of Brown’s non-tax ideas. Those include $4.2 billion in spending cuts, such as slashing welfare-to-work by $1 billion, and $1.4 billion in accounting maneuvers and delayed debt repayment.
Democrats have all but written off Republicans in this year’s budget process because they have majority-vote budget authority and are relying on the governor’s tax initiative. Governor Brown’s Department of Finance responded late this afternoon with a line-by-line retort to the budget proposal that California Republican legislators unveiled this morning. The Department of Finance believes that the plan contains some legally questionable moves and overstated assumptions.
The $11 billion water bond slated for the November 2012 ballot continues to be at the forefront of discussions in Sacramento. As it stands now, the water bond is still slated for the 2012 ballot. An opinion released by Legislative Counsel stated that it would only take a majority vote of the legislature to delay the bond until 2014 or 2016. The Legislature has other options regarding how they could proceed with the water bond, all of which would require a two-thirds vote. In addition to delaying the bond, the Legislature could pass a uniform cut on the funding, pass a strategic cut in sections on the bond, or re-work how the bond will be funded, all of which would require a two-thirds vote.
Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has publically stated that he believes the water bond should be delayed until 2014. Steinberg noted that the priority this fall is promoting Governor Brown’s tax initiative. On March 20, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) Executive Director Tim Quinn briefed the association’s statewide Board of Directors on the status of the Water Bond. The ACWA Board concurred with staff’s recommendation to work towards moving the 2012 water bond to the 2014 ballot. Director Quinn noted that even with the state’s fiscal uncertainties, statewide opinion polling consistently shows that a strong majority of Californians believe the state has long-term water problems and that we must invest in solutions to protect jobs, the economy and the environment. He believes that moving the bond does not change the fact that we must find ways to pay for comprehensive water supply solutions.
In addition, Director Quinn noted that one of the greatest challenges facing water managers today is finding effective and fair means to finance the public benefits of a program to achieve the coequal goals of state wide water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration. For that reason, ACWA supported the 2012 water bond for the November ballot. Now it is apparent that the 2012 water bond will likely be moved to the 2014 ballot so that the Governor and legislative leaders can devote efforts to solving the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis. Director Quinn has stated that moving forward ACWA will continue to be active in developing both solutions and effective financing strategies to implement them.
In early March, a poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that while seven in ten voters think the water supply in their area of California is a big problem, only 51 percent of likely voters would support the water bond. 66 percent of likely Democratic voters would vote yes, 52 percent of likely Republican voters would vote no, and independent voters are more likely to vote yes, 48 percent, than no, 35 percent. State lawmakers will make the final decision on what action to take with the bond in July.
At a recent ACWA Legislative Symposium on March 7, a number of legislators weighed in on the matter. Senator Rubio (D-Bakersfield) said that the bond may have to be reopened, however, he noted that input from the Governor and Senator Feinstein will be critical. Senator Fuller (R-Bakersfield) also noted that reopening the bond will be extremely difficult but delay is also fraught with problems. Assemblymember Jeffries (R-Riverside) voiced his support for reducing the size of the bond. He went on to say that this year’s dry conditions may be a “game-changer” in pushing the Legislature to act. Assemblymember Henry Perea (D-Fresno) noted that very few of the new members of the Legislature understand the political dynamics behind the 2009 water bond package, and this institutional memory will continue to decline with the passage of time.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan
On February 29, state officials released preliminary administrative drafts of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan for public review. These administrative draft documents analyze the movement of 5.9 million acre feet of water a year on average and the creation of over 110,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat. The Plan calls for building two giant tunnels, 37 miles long, to divert portion of the Sacramento to River’s flow out the estuary and directly to existing state and federal diversion pumps near Tracy, California. These tunnels would represent the largest alternative conveyance at 15,000 cubic feet per second; resulting in about 5.9 acre feet a year to the pumps, an increase from the current 4.7 million acre feet. The Plan also outlines the creation of new habitat to mitigate the tunnels’ impact, including about 80,000 acres of floodplains and tidal marshes for fish habitat and about 40,000 acres of native grasslands and other habitat for wildlife species. The Planning documents states that fish species initially could decline in population but the new habitat should reverse declines by offering more breeding and feeding area. This project would represent the largest habitat restoration in state history.
The project cost would be an estimated $25 billion, with the construction of the conveyance project estimated at $13 million. The schedule is still on track and the environmental impact statement and financial analysis documents are expected to be released in June. The Plan will ultimately need to be approved by both state and federal wildlife agencies. Upon their approval, the administration of Governor Brown could assert its legal authority to build the project without the need for a public vote.
Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia introduced water legislation in the House 10 months ago so extreme that it would have pre-empted the state Endangered Species Act and allowed the federal government to control California’s water resources.
Imagine a lake half as large as Lake Tahoe, containing 17 million to 34 million acre-feet of water. That is what lies under the Cadiz and Bristol valleys in the Eastern Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County. Cadiz Inc., a privately held company, owns 34,000 acres that overlie this vast groundwater basin. The company plans to extract 2.5 million acre-feet of the water, a public good, over the next 50 years and sell it back to the public at a profit.
Without water, there is no California. For as long as our state has existed, there has always been tension between need and supply. The North State currently has an ample water supply, but our Central Valley and Southern California neighbors do not. Consequently, all Californians have had to work together to ensure that every region has what it needs to power their regional economies.
March brought plentiful snowfall to the Sierra but not enough to make up for a disappointing winter in 2011-2012. The traditional snow season ended with a mountain snowpack at levels only a little more than half what is normally expected for early .
Governor Brown has released his reorganization plan for state agencies. His 400 page legislative proposal reduces the number of state agencies from 12 to 10 and eliminates and consolidates myriad smaller state entities. Three new proposed agencies of note are: Government Operations, Business and Consumer Services and Transportation.
Pressure is building in the State Capitol to postpone until 2014 a statewide vote on the $11 billion state water bond, which is currently scheduled to appear on the November 2012 ballot. However, achieving a 2/3 vote in both houses of the legislature to postpone the vote will be no easy task. There are multiple contending factions and interests. Some legislators and groups will see the legislative vote as an opportunity to re-write some of the bond language, which could cause others to drop their support. Some environmental groups, which oppose the bond because it includes $3 billion for water storage, want the vote to be held this November, because they think the voters will reject the measure. Some delta interests oppose the bond altogether, because they believe that it will facilitate the building of some type of delta bypass facility. Still, others are concerned about the state’s ability to make interest payments on additional debt. At the moment the situation is a mess. So stay tuned.
Demand for water in a river basin that serves more than 36 million people in the West and Mexico is expected to overwhelm supply in the next half-century as the region grows. So the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
5 conservation groups throughout the Southwest United States delivered over 5,000 signatures to the U.S. Department of State urging officials to work with Mexico to restore water flow to the Colorado River Delta.
According to a new study, the American water infrastructure is nearing the end of its lifecycle. Over the next 25 years, the water mains and other infrastructure will need to be replaced, at a cost of a trillion dollars.
California’s giant water wholesaler approved a smaller rate increase Tuesday than its staff proposed, but it wasn’t low enough to satisfy officials who claim a “shadow government” has seized control of the agency and is targeting consumers in San Diego.
The San Diego County Water Authority is studying a drastic solution to the soaring cost of bringing in Imperial Valley water through the Metropolitan Water District: building its own pipeline to bypass Metropolitan.
Consolidation could favor plans for peripheral canal. An independent council with at least some veto power over a peripheral canal or tunnel would be consumed by the same agency that wants to build one under a little-noticed element of a reorganization plan by canal supporter Gov. Jerry Brown.
Scarce water supplies and coastal flooding may be part of California’s future, but the Golden State is as ready as any state to tackle those and other problems caused by climate change, according to a national study released Thursday.
Commentary by Jeffrey Kightlinger
The San Diego County Water Authority is hard at work blaming the outside world for high water costs instead of having a candid, honest conversation within this community about the real water challenges we all face.
The San Diego County Water Authority on Monday released a plan it said would allow the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to cap average rate increases for 2013 and 2014 at 3 percent.
Increasingly frequent shutdowns of the Colorado River Aqueduct for maintenance and repair are the biggest drivers of rising water bills in Southern California. Out in the desert, the wind never quits. Over its howling one day recently, Roy Howard strained to make himself heard as he explained why its usual accompaniment, the rush of water and the rumble of enormous industrial pumps, had fallen silent.
Mexico and the U.S. now have a chance to bring life back to what was once one an aquatic Eden. River deltas are among the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth, and for millions of years the delta of the Colorado River was no exception. After a 1,450-mile journey from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains south into Mexico, the Colorado sustained verdant marshes teeming with life before emptying into the aquatic Eden of the upper Gulf of California.
State lawmakers are likely to delay voters’ consideration of an $11 billion water bond from this November until 2014, the leader of the state Senate said Thursday. It would be the second time the measure is pushed back. The bond was originally set for voters’ consideration in 2010, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation delaying it until this year.
“In all likelihood, the water bond will be put off until 2014, that’s what I think,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
Of all the unanswered questions about a plan that could result in a giant pipeline to move water out of the Sacramento River, and under the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, perhaps the biggest is how high Californians’ water bills will rise.
If there’s a silver bullet to solve the environmental problems in the Delta, some of the nation’s brightest minds can’t find it. A two-year inquiry by a committee formed by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that California’s water supply problems are serious, and that there is no easy fix.
Global warming is leading to such severe storms, droughts and heat waves that nations should prepare for an unprecedented onslaught of deadly and costly weather disasters, an international panel of climate scientists says in a report issued Wednesday.
Water officials in Las Vegas have one crucial approval in hand, but they but still need another — and billions of dollars — before construction can begin on a pipeline to supply water from rural and sparsely populated eastern Nevada to the state’s glittery cosmopolitan area.
The finding won’t expand restrictions on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta’s water operations because the fish is just being designated a candidate for listing as an endangered species. Federal biologists have concluded that another native fish of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is headed toward extinction, underscoring the region’s severe environmental problems.