California lawmakers passed a bill removing an $11 billion water-bond proposition from the November ballot on concern that too many high-cost measures might jeopardize Governor Jerry Brown's proposed tax increase.
The measure, which passed the Senate 34-2 and the Assembly 69-6, would delay the water bonds until 2014. The bill advances to Brown, a Democrat, for his signature. It would be the second time the measure has been pushed back since it was first approved by his predecessor, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and lawmakers in 2009.
"It is critically important that we focus on the revenue measure," said Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, a Democrat from San Ramon, referring to Brown's ballot initiative.
Brown and a teachers' union collected signatures asking voters in November to temporarily raise the state sales tax and income taxes on the wealthy to erase a $15.7 billion deficit and eliminate a recurring shortfall that has plagued the most populous U.S. state for the last decade. The revenue already is calculated into the fiscal 2013 budget. If voters say no, it would trigger a $5.5 billion cut from schools, the equivalent to three weeks off the academic year.
The water-bond delay would be the second time in as many weeks that Democrats who control the Legislature approved a bill aimed at giving Brown's initiative an upper hand at the polls. Even with the bond measure dropped, voters will still face 11 ballot questions.
Lawmakers inserted language into one of the budget bills they passed June 27 that requires bond measures and constitutional amendments to get top billing on statewide ballot pamphlets. That pushed Brown's tax proposal to the top of the pamphlet from ninth.
While the language has nothing to do with the budget, they were able to add it to the spending plan by appropriating $1,000 to the Secretary of State's office, which handles elections. Because budgets in California can now be approved by a simple majority vote, the appropriation also let Democrats make the change without the two-thirds vote needed to amend election rules.
Proponents of another income tax-increase initiative on the ballot, championed by Molly Munger, the daughter of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Vice Chairman Charles Munger, sued to block the move, calling it "an abuse of the political process and legislative power." The change would leave her measure in the ninth slot on the ballot pamphlet because hers doesn't amend the constitution.
A Sacramento County superior court June 29 temporarily blocked the state from numbering the initiatives while Munger's complaint is reviewed.
The bond money would finance an overhaul of the state's aging public-water works, which depends on aqueducts, reservoirs and pipelines, some almost 100 years old. The improvements are needed for drinking water and to supply California's $37.5 billion-a-year agriculture industry.