California water bond negotiations are entering a critical stretch after more than a year of discussions among competing interest groups. Time is growing short to replace the current $11 billion measure on the November ballot. But the California state Senate rejected a proposed replacement measure Monday.
Typically, water politics break down along regional lines. But this vote fell on party lines. Democratic Senator Lois Wolk argued that her proposal stands the best chance of passing the legislature this summer – and winning voter approval this fall. “This bond – what we tried to construct with many of your assistance – is something that works for everyone in the state and harms no one,” Wolk said during Senate floor debate.
Democratic Senate leader Darrell Steinberg says the proposal he helped negotiate in recent weeks has the best shot at winning approval from both lawmakers and voters.
“A bond which stokes a north-south water war will not pass the voters,” Steinberg told reporters before Monday's vote.
But Republican Senator Jim Nielsen says Wolk’s proposal still needs more work. Otherwise, he says, lawmakers might as well leave the existing water bond on the ballot.
“I do believe that the voters of California – now having been confronted with this drought – will be sympathetic. I have always felt that – that that bond should just move as is,” Nielsen said during the debate.
Republican Senator Anthony Cannella says any new bond must include money for storage – and must encourage Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed Delta tunnel project. Otherwise, he too is comfortable with the current water bond on the November ballot.
“That bond’s fine with me, Cannella told Capital Public Radio. “At some point, I negotiate against myself when I start removing things that I care about, when we’ve got a bond that’s currently on the ballot.”
The existing bond has drawn criticism for being too large, but this replacement proposal would only be half a billion dollars smaller. Cannella says Gov. Brown will propose his own set of “guiding principles” for a water bond in the coming days. The governor’s office would only say it’s concerned debt service from a water bond could hurt future state budgets.