The legislature has adjourned, so now we can all take a deep breath and relax, right, for as newspaper editor Gideon John Tucker wrote in 1866: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”
The Governor has until October 15th to sign hundreds of new bills into law or veto them, so we won’t know the final score for a while, but, at least they’re not in session again until January.
That’s the rub. In California the legislature meets in a twoyear session, coinciding with the elected terms of the State Assembly members. This means that many of the bills that failed to achieve passage in the first half of the session can be carried over to the second.
One of those bills, Senate Bill 623, introduced by Senator Bill Monning (D-San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Cruz), would impose the first-ever consumer tax on drinking water.
New Taxes on Drinking Water, Milk & Fertilizer
The bill would levy a 95-cent-per-month “fee” (the legislative word for tax used to avoid the two-thirds majority required for passage) on water meters up to one inch or customers without water meters, increasing, depending on the size of the water meter, to $10-per-month for customers with meters greater than four inches—mostly farmers and industrial customers.
There are additional taxes buried in the bill including “fees” on the sale of fertilizer (7-mills per dollar) and two-cents per hundred-weight on milk, all under the heading of “safe drinking water fees.”
The meter, milk and fertilizer taxes, estimated at $140M per year, will be channeled to a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, managed by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), to clean up the 300 state water systems that don’t meet federal standards, mostly in the Central Valley and mostly subject to excess nitrate exposure.
According to a recent U.S. Geological Service report contamination from man-made sources occurred in high concentrations in only five percent of California’s groundwater resources. Naturally occurring contaminants like arsenic or uranium were found in about 20 percent of the state’s groundwater.
Normally ECA would support additional funding for projects devoted to improving water quality, but in this case the new taxes present the SWRCB with an embarrassment of riches. This agency has close to $4.5 billion in unspent funds laying fallow from the state water bond that passed in 2014.
SWRCB has only spent $113 million so far on projects. Until they speed up the pace they don’t need any more complications, or funding.