SAN FRANCISCO — With one week to go in their session, California lawmakers are hoping they will leave behind something to remember other than multiple budget crises.
The biggest target in the end-of-session rush is something that has eluded California’s leaders for years — a comprehensive, and expensive, package to alter the state’s water delivery system.
The problem is widely acknowledged: the environmental decline of the so-called Delta, where water from the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers flows to San Francisco Bay.
Water is pumped south from the Delta to consumers on Southern California and farmers in the Central Valley.
The Delta’s decline has severely affected fisheries, resulting in court rulings limiting the amount of water that can be pumped out. An ongoing drought makes the problems worse.
There has been far less agreement on how to solve the problem.
After years of debate, Senate President pro tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has taken up the cause of trying to ramrod a package through the Legislature before this year’s session ends next Friday.
To that end, he organized a conference committee that met for the first time Wednesday. It has until Tuesday to bring a final conference report to the floor of both houses, and Steinberg said he expected the panel to meet through the Labor Day weekend.
Among the divisive issues that need to be addressed is “conveyance,” or the idea of piping water around the Delta. Many environmentalists and Delta stakeholders fear that a conveyance canal or pipeline would simply allow Southern California to grab water and leave the Delta to rot. But Steinberg has signaled that he expects conveyance in the package.
The committee must also decide on dam building. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative Republicans insist on new reservoirs. Most Democrats are skeptical.
The committee must also figure out how to pay for projects with cost estimates that start at $10 billion and go up from there.
One member of the conference committee, Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, Wednesday said she will introduce a $12 billion general obligation bond measure for water.
“We must work together now in a bipartisan effort to help solve California’s infrastructure needs,” Caballero said in a statement. “This bond proposal will do just that.”
Other Democrats have said that more of the water project funding should come from user fees, which could back revenue bonds.
A GO measure would need two-thirds approval in the Legislature and then be approved by a majority of the state’s voters in November 2010.
Lawmakers also have many other bond-related bills before them in the final days.
Two measures sponsored by state Treasurer Bill Lockyer are awaiting final floor action.
SB 99 would require increased disclosure from conduit bond issuers. It was awaiting a floor vote in the Assembly yesterday morning.
AB 798 would create a new California Transportation Financing Authority in the treasurer’s office, to finance toll road and other transportation projects. It was awaiting a floor vote in the Senate, and a concurrence vote in the Assembly for Senate amendments.
Also awaiting a vote on the Assembly floor was a proposed constitutional amendment to require state GO measures over $1 billion that qualify for the ballot through the initiative process to identify a funding source to pay debt service, either through new revenue, cuts to existing programs, or both.
The proposed amendment was approved unanimously in two committees. If the Assembly approves it, it would have to also be approved by the Senate before going to voters next year.