A renewed effort to pass a bill to put a $4.2 billion bond on the November ballot to help combat various climate and environmental dangers in California is currently underway by several Senators and Assemblymembers in Sacramento.
A $4.2 billion holdup
SB 45, authored by Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), would, if passed by the voters, give funds to combat wildfires, drought, floods, and poor drinking water access.
The $4.2 billion would be split, with $1.6 billion going to wildfire and drought prevention, $1.2 billion funding safe drinking water initiatives and protection of water sources during a natural disaster, $600 million for coastal, ocean, and natural resource protection against disasters, $500 million to protect fish and wildlife during natural disasters, $200 million to protect agricultural land against disasters, and $100 million for climate resilience and education.
Last year SB 45 never left the Senate despite early subcommittee approvals. The bill had been constantly amended before Senate votes, with many Senators disagreeing over the wordage, over who should get funding, and over the amount itself. In the last amendment in September, almost $200 million alone was added to the bond amount.
Those supportive of the bill have said that more money is needed to prevent wildfires and other disasters, which have killed many citizens and have destroyed tens of billions of dollars worth of property.
“We’ve been really good about investing in suppression. In other words, firefighters and helicopters,” said Senator Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park), who introduced the bill to the Senate with Senator Allen last year. “We haven’t done that good of a job in prevention.”
Experts in natural disaster prevention have also said the funds are desperately needed.
“This is a little money now so we don’t have to spend a lot later,” explained Fresno-based drought consultant Victor Moreno. “The Camp Fire in Paradise cost the lives of many people, damages were in the billions, and the taxpayers picked up the tab for the aftermath of it all, also in the billions.”
“Others have also killed people and also cost so much money. If we had, say, enacted drought re measures to some of those areas, we may never had had some of those wildfires. At the very least they probably would have been contained.”
“In the long run this saves everyone money and grief, not to mention the bonus of improving the beauty of California and improving water resources. If you know anything about the Central Valley, we’ve been screaming about water issues for years, especially farmers, and this bond finally begins to address at least a few of those issues.”
Other ways of preventing wildfires
The bill has also received a number of detractors. Some point out that a reduction of fuel in forests, such as brush and other dead foliage that could produce tinder, would be an effective way. Others have said that other bills to be introduced this year could fill in the gaps needed for prevention without a bond issue potentially going to voters.
“I don’t know if borrowing is the best practice considering the amount of debt we have right now,” stated Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City). “There are existing dollars in government that I think we could just better target.”
Experts pointed out another problem.
“This is a giant amount of tax money,” said Deborah Price, who has been a government accountant in three states. “And Californians have seen a lot of bond and tax issues already. This coming March we actually have a $15 billion vote on schools.”
“I agree we need to do more about wildfires, but a giant bond is something many Californians, regardless of political views, may not have the stomach for anymore. I’ve seen it happen before. Some cities try for decades to get school bonds passed but people are tired of wasteful spending. It may happen here.”
The future of SB 45
Whether or not it gets passed by the voters in November, all comes down to the legislature itself. SB 45 needs to be passed in either the Senate or the Assembly by January 31st, or due to the rules of holdover bills, it may die right then and there. If it is passed, it still needs the other house to approve, as well as a signature by Governor Gavin Newsom.
That’s also assuming that the bill isn’t changed in any way. Many Senators have already given indications for new amendments or changes, with the bond amount specifically being mentioned to go up due to the desire to include funding for batteries and fuel cells to power needed places during likely future power shutoffs.
“This bill and bond, they are California’s protection for the near-future,” added Moreno. “It’s also one of those rare times where you ‘spend money to save money’. And with wildfires getting worse, we need to ‘save’ as much as possible.”
SB 45 will be reintroduced on the Senate floor this week with the hope that it will be passed by the end of the month.