Despite Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3 that would use 2 percent of the annual General Fund to pay for all water improvement projects, and eight water bonds totaling more than $30 billion, Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to charge California water customers up to $10 per month to pay for the clean up of contaminated water in low-income and rural areas.
However, since year 2000, voters have approved eight water bonds totaling more than $30 billion, according the the Legislative Analyst’s Office. However, very little has been spent on water storage projects that would create new water-supply sources for Californians, which is what the state actually needs in order to realistically deal with inevitable droughts. New water supply and population growth is the biggest concern of Assemblyman Mathis.
ACA 3 was introduced in January by Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) but has not yet had a hearing. The bill addresses water improvement projects, water infrastructure, environmental quality improvements, groundwater clean-up and recharge, and emergency drinking water programs.
You may recall that Mathis is the Assemblyman who has tried for several years to get his colleagues in the Legislature to pass legislation to fund clean drinking water for the 10,000 poor constituents in his district reliant on groundwater wells which wells went dry in the drought – to no avail.
Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed in January a plan to spend $25 million for the “Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund,” by taxing drinking water. A bill proposing a drinking water tax was introduced last year, but was killed during the committee process under threat of a veto by Gov. Jerry Brown. In 2018 Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) authored SB623 to establish a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, which also received strong opposition from numerous state agencies and coalitions. SB 623 died in the Assembly Rules Committee.
Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) also has a bill which would use money from the state’s nearly $30 billion surplus to create a trust fund to pay for water improvements.
Taxpayer advocates and water agencies across the state oppose Newsom’s plan. Some say it is just a blatant attempt to create another tax-revenue funding source on the back of a serious issue – just like the state’s rundown highways and roads and the gas tax. And others have said this tax could open the door to other new taxes on water for a variety of different programs.
“The Governor is talking about the housing crisis, and building many new homes,” Assemblyman Mathis said in an interview in January. “In order for California to build houses, we must improve water infrastructure. We know we need to capture water, and move it down South, and get it into the ground.”
“But in order to do this, we have to have a guaranteed funding formula,” Mathis added. “Bonds haven’t worked. The money is not there — it’s gone, and on what?”
“We don’t think it makes sense to tax a resource that is essential to living,” said Cindy Tuck of the Association of California Water Agencies. “However, a statewide water tax is highly problematic and is not necessary when alternative funding solutions exist and the state has a huge budget surplus.”