Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is threatening to kill hundreds of bills unless the Legislature delivers one bill on water.
[...]It's ugly. But it's an available political tool that the governor would be derelict not to use when an issue as critical as water is at stake.
The state water system is clogged and rusting. It's a matter of time before the California aqueduct, which funnels Sierra snow runoff from the Sacramento Valley into the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, is shut off. The principal water tank, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, is threatened with potential levee collapses, earthquakes, floods and global warming. And the ecology already is crumbling.
The estuary's fishery is fast disappearing. The endangered delta smelt is a red herring -- a pet target of San Joaquin farmers and the governor who resent federal judges holding back water to save the tiny critter. The real economic tragedy is the decline of the once-abundant king salmon. Their plight has caused a two-year cancellation of commercial fishing for the popular fish, idling boats and shuttering processing plants all along the North Coast.
Nobody argues that the waterworks don't need major repairs and remodeling. But there is a delicate balance that Capitol negotiators have yet to find. It's the balance between investing in a reliable, environmentally friendly water supply and trying to achieve what really must be the state's No. 1 priority: living within its means.
So everyone agrees, this is a worthwhile project. Everyone agrees, the money needs to be spent. Everyone agrees that not to act quickly on this bill can and will endanger the very water supply that allows 2/3 of California's to remain in their homes, and not be forced to evacuate to Oregon and Washington.
The problem? Democrats versus Republicans, and both versus Ahnuld.
Check this out:
Senate Republicans have proposed a $12.4-billion bond issue that would be paid off by all taxpayers. It would include $4 billion for two or three dams. Additionally, users of the newly developed water would kick in at least that much dam-building money.
But Assembly Republican Leader Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo disagrees. He would prefer a bond closer to $8 billion.
"We're in the biggest recession of our generation," he says. "We need to spend only what is necessary to solve the problem as quickly as possible . . . without some of the Christmas ornaments and largesse -- a scaled-down package that isn't the ultimate solution for every water problem anyone can imagine, funding every possible stakeholder who has a dog in this hunt."
Democratic leaders basically agree. But they would cut back on dam funding before they would eliminate some of the things Blakeslee would, such as groundwater monitoring and treatment plants. "Much of this bill is a wish list of the far left," the GOP leader asserts. "Frankly, I don't think this is the time for a wish list."
Ironic, isn't it? The Republicans are actually willing to outspend the Democrats by $4 billion, except for the one Republican who actually counts, who wants to match the Democrats funding proposals but eliminate the wrong projects!
And here's Governor Schwarzenegger, basically threatening to shut down significant portions of the state on Sunday if there's no bill by then. Which has pissed the Democrats, who control the legislature, off.
Here's the real cruz of the problem, and it reflects the national positions of both parties: Republicans want to fund the entire $12 (or $8) billion through bond issues to be paid out of general tax revenues. Democrats want to correctly assign at least part of the burden on the people who most benefit from the improved and more secure water supplies, levying a small usage tax on them to help pay for the repairs and upgrades.
Of course, to be perfectly honest, both groups are spending money that they don't have, but the Democrats proposal is clearly more in line with the sentiment of California taxpayers and their mantra of limiting taxes: reducing the cash available to pay for the day-to-day operations of the state is cutting your nose to spite your face, while even the most conservative Glibertarian can wrap their heads around a "pay for play" plan.
And yet, Schwarzenegger, by threatening to veto some 700 bills including a bill that prevents health insurers from dropping their customers at all, unless fraud can be proved, and to retrofit some bridges in earthquake prone regions.
Um. Hm. Talk about cutting one's nose to spite one's face...