SAN FRANCISCO - In what may well be a last-ditch effort to get a water project bond measure on the California ballot this year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein last week announced a joint $9.3 billion water bond proposal they want to place before voters in November.
Despite apparently widespread general agreement that California should issue billions of dollars in bonds to invest in water supply infrastructure, the devilish details have thus far prevented any water bond proposal from gaining traction in the Legislature since the push began in 2007.
Now the Republican governor and the state's senior U.S. senator, a Democrat, have teamed up to give a bipartisan push to the process, which is running out of time. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn at the end of August, presuming they can pass a budget, and if they can't get a bond measure on this November's ballot, the next scheduled statewide election isn't until 2010.
"The goal of this plan is to break the long-standing stalemate over water," Feinstein said in a statement.
The latest proposal divvies the money into six categories, including $3 billion for water storage projects, $2 billion for "regional water supply and conservation projects," and $1.9 billion for projects to enhance the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta east of San Francisco Bay, through which water travels from Northern California to Southern California.
Earlier attempts at a water bond deal have stumbled on the area of "water storage," which basically refers to dams and reservoirs. Republicans wanted new dams, Democrats didn't. The delta is another touchy subject, with a regional split between Northern Californians, who generally oppose a canal system to bypass the delta, and Southern Californians, who generally support it.
It takes a two-thirds vote in the Assembly and Senate to place a general obligation bond measure on the ballot, which means bipartisan support is needed as the Democratic majorities in each house do not have enough votes on their own.
Senate president pro tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, issued a statement in response to the proposal, saying that he doesn't see it as his top priority when California lacks a budget and funds from a 2006 water bond authorization remain unspent.
"I am open to doing a water bond," he said. "First, however, the state should spend the bond money voters approved in 2006, and then we must pass a responsible budget that can pay for the debt service on a new bond. Once we do that, we'll sit down with the governor and Republicans to draft a bond measure to secure the state's long-term water supply."