With just three weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session and the official deadline for placing issues on the Nov. 4 ballot long since passed, one might think that the Capitol’s politicians would be working night and day to write a new water bond.
But if they are, it sure isn’t noticeable, even though the state is wracked by drought and the public expects politicians to respond with more than sympathy.
Before the last month of the session began, the word around the Capitol was that something had to be done by Aug. 11 – today – on a water bond, even if it was simply to remove a 2009-vintage bond issue measure that already has been postponed twice.
Chances are high that nothing will happen today. There’s not even agreement on whether another postponement bill can be passed on a simple-majority vote, as Democrats claim, or whether at least a few Republican votes would be needed.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who’s been clearly reluctant to have any water bond on the ballot this year as he seeks re-election, finally offered up some details on the $6 billion version he says he’s willing to accept.
Brown denounced the $11.1 billion current version as “pork-laden,” but his minimalist approach doesn’t appear to be winning any converts in the Legislature, which may be by design. If nothing happens, he can say he tried.
Late last week, Republican senators – who would just as soon leave the 2009 bipartisan bond deal on the ballot – offered an $8.7 billion alternative that appears to eliminate gratuitous pork but retains their top priority, $3 billion to seed construction of new storage reservoirs.
Even if Republican votes would not be needed to remove the current bond from the ballot, there’s no doubt they would be needed to replace it with a new version, so their demands carry political weight.
The reservoir money is clearly a major point of friction, but the even stickier issue, it appears, is the extent to which any new bond measure would be tied to Brown’s highly controversial plan to bore twin water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to facilitate water deliveries southward.
Democrats say they want a “tunnel-neutral” bond to avoid its becoming a referendum on the Delta project.
Identifying the bond issue with the tunnels would expose the stark regional and ideological divisions over water, and could doom its passage in November.
The new Republican plan doesn’t qualify as tunnel-neutral. Among other things, it would authorize water purchases to make up for water that the tunnels would divert from the Delta. And writing a bond that’s truly tunnel-neutral may be impossible, given the intertwined nature of water.
Will it happen? Given the wide disagreements on details both inside and outside the Capitol and the time squeeze, the odds get longer each day.