A bill that would have drastically reduced water quality problems on the California-Mexico border was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Sunday due to concerns over the bills final price tag of $100 million.
Assembly Bill 2248, authored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), would have drawn $100 million from the state’s general fund to the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). There, the SWRCB would have divested the funds into grants and direct expenditures to improve the water quality in many Southern California rivers, in particular those on the Californian-Mexican border. The would include $50 for improvements to the New River, which goes from Baja California into the Salton Sea, and $50 million for the Tijuana River, which runs through San Diego.
AB 2248 would have also required priority for the funding to be given to projects that have funding committed by the United States, the Republic of Mexico, the State of Baja California, or the City of Tijuana or Mexicali.
Assemblyman Garcia wrote the bill due to the heavily polluted state of both rivers, with the New River currently being one of the most polluted rivers in the country and one of the largest public health hazards in Imperial County.
“Our $100 million funding request for New River and Tijuana River improvement projects are a matter of public health and environmental justice urgency for our shared border communities,” said Assemblyman Garcia in a statement in May. “For too long, residents living alongside our borders have faced disproportionate consequences of cross-border pollution, and we have been fighting for the resources needed to rectify these disparities.”
While the bill continued to receive a large amount of support due to the need for clean water supplies amid the drought and water shortage issues this year, with environmental groups also backing the plan, many others balked at the high cost of the project and charged that the bill would do little to help California’s current water emergency. But, despite the concerns, AB 2248 quickly gained bipartisan support due to the critical need of help for the two rivers. The Senate passed the bill 39-0, followed by the Assembly voting 79-0, last month.
AB 2248 Veto
However, concerns over the price of the bill continued and, after less than a week after AB 2248 was presented to him, Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill due to a lower-than-expected budget amount early in the fiscal year and wanting the programs to be part of the annual budget process rather than through a binding bill.
“I am returning Assembly Bill 2248 without my signature,” said Newsom in his veto announcement on Sunday. “My Administration remains committed to addressing water quality and environmental equity issues at cross-border rivers, which is why I have supported funding this work. However, with our state facing lower-than-expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year facing lower-than-expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year, it is important to remain disciplined. Additional funding should be considered as part of the annual budget process.”
“The Legislature sent measures with potential costs of well over $20 billion in one-time spending commitments and more than $10 billion in ongoing commitments not accounted for in the state budget. Bills with significant fiscal impact, such as this measure, should be considered and accounted for as part of the annual budget process. For these reasons, I cannot sign this bill.”
Experts noted that the projects would likely receive some funding by being part of the next budget in some way, shape, or form, but also that the projects would likely receive less due to upcoming budget concerns and the total amount to be compromised on rather than having a fixed amount through the bill.
“We’ve seen this before through other proposed water projects,” said James Neal, a water control expert in LA County, to the Globe on Monday. “There’s a popular piece of legislation that would give the right amount of funds to fix a big water issue, but then it just doesn’t come to be and is instead seen in a reduced form in the next year or two that only fixes a few areas in need of change. Most often, that either means the parts that are in the worst condition or the parts that are most visible to the public. This veto makes it look like we’re going down that path again.”
AB 2248 was one of eight bills vetoed by the Governor on Sunday.
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