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Sink the pork-laden water bond

November 28, 2009 by JEFF MILLER, The Press Interprise, Riverside, Calif


< Legislators' water deal offers no serious plan to increase the state's water supply

Applause waits on success," said Benjamin Franklin. And if that's the case, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and my colleagues in the state Legislature should wait before taking bows for advancing a revenue bond of more than $11 billion and believing we've solved -- or even substantially addressed -- California's water needs.

Praised as everything from proof that big government really works to the elusive playbook for seeing to our state's infrastructure priorities, I fear the deal struck this month will leave us right back where we started. Worse, it could exhaust our ability to focus on this issue for the foreseeable future.

If politics is the art of the possible and compromise is the art of the deal, then the process that brought forth this supposedly grand accord was truly neither one.

Why did I join both Democrats and Republicans in opposing the compromise package?

In the beginning, the mainstream architecture for water reform was this: more supply, increased capacity, improved facilities, attention to agriculture/environmental balance, streamlined regulatory rules and consideration for our struggling economy.

Instead, the deal that emerged was this: insufficient investment in storage and facilities, no realistic plan for increased supply, extensive new environmental restrictions and a massive new statewide network of regulatory regimes that could make the California Coastal Commission look like a lemonade stand.

The compromise deal is also replete with the kind of earmarks and line items that proved so embarrassing to the Congress:

$250 million for dam removal on the Klamath River. That's right: removal, not construction.

$75 million to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, in part for "educational and interpretive" activities (your guess is as good as mine).

$10 million to study Sierra Nevada climate change.

For this we convened a special legislative session, worked six weeks and rushed through numerous floor votes at 4 a.m.?

Ultimately, the plan dragged to the finish line was too expensive, too sly, created too many regulations and too much of it had nothing to do with water. My colleagues and I simply could not go along with the deal. We can do better than this.

We'll almost certainly have to. I simply can't see the public giving its approval to a plan this expensive, complicated and off-topic during these difficult economic times. Especially after the news that California is stumbling badly in its latest venture into the bond market -- evidence that investors are scared away by the state's large and growing debt.

What will we do then? I hope not undertake business as usual. Because something dramatic is happening in California, and it's so obvious it may be difficult to notice. Every day, the public loses more and more confidence in Sacramento. And with that shortfall of faith comes a steep rise in cynicism.

Deals like this only reinforce that feeling, where following weeks of wrangling, we send a behemoth of a bill to the voters and attach an 11-figure price tag. Pardon the expression, but we've drawn from that dry well far too many times. Taxpayers are fed up and the votes they are casting are in direct contradiction to these kinds of bond measures.

Some have offered that this process was begun with the best of intentions and expressed a sincere desire to help our state. But what bad idea isn't? In the end, the Capitol reverted back to many of its troubling habits of secret deal-cutting and last-minute changes to seemingly settled legislation. Sometimes, we fundamentally forget to make certain that we have asked for -- and received -- the consent of the governed.

California's water wars are said to be as old as the state itself. But this multibillion- dollar bond -- so acclaimed at the moment -- won't put an end to the fighting. Instead, after burdening already-struggling taxpayers and obligating the state to repay a price tag far in excess of $11 billion, it will decisively shift the battlefield so federal courts and state regulators replace regional officials and local interests in determining water policy. This alone is reason enough to start over.

When the applause dies down, the voters will feel the same way.

Jeff Miller, R-Corona, represents the 71st District in the state Assembly.

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