I talked with three Contra Costa state lawmakers via telephone this morning about their views on the Big Five water talks under way in Sacramento today. I did not hear much optimism about a the chances of a deal by tonight’s deadline.
Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and assemblymembers Joan Buchanan and Tom Torlakson view the closed-door talks on the controversial and complex subject as unlikely to produce a package that will attain either legislative or public support, and urged the resumption of public hearings.
DeSaulnier of Concord, who scuttled his planned trip to Spain this week in order to participate in the California water negotiations, called Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s move to hold hostage 700 bills on his desk pending a water deal counter-productive.
“The governor’s unique talents are unsuits for this time right now in Sacramento,” DeSaulnier said. “He just not very good at negotiation.”
“What’s the rush?” he added. “Are they worried it will start raining and with the drought over, the pressure will be off to pass reforms? I think we can get a deal but we need to do it with continued public hearings and public discussion, not artificial deadlines.”
Even if the Big Five emerge today or Saturday arm-in-arm with a package, the East Bay legislators say the question of how to pay for it remains a huge sticking point.
All three say they oppose financing the estimated $8 billion to $12 billion package through general obligation bonds. Repayment of general obligation bonds comes right of the top of the state’s general fund, which means the money cannot be used elsewhere.
They favor the use of revenue bonds, which are repaid by water users including residents, businesses and farmers.
“It the midst of these horrible deficits, and we’re facing additional horrendous challenges next year, do we want to cut more from schools or higher education?” said Torlakson, D-Antioch.
“The payment on a $12 billion bond is $700 million a year,” said Buchanan, D-Alamo. “If we are going to pass legislation and ask voters to pass a bond, we need to ask how we’re going to pay for it.”
Buchanan also says that she and other Delta area lawmakers will demand sufficient time to evaluate any proposal and talk with their constituents.
“A half a million people live in the Delta and the impacts of new policies could last decades,” Buchanan said. “You can bet that I and my staff will be reading every word.”
Postscript: DeSaulnier’s trip to Spain was, ironically, a Senate-sponsored event to study the country’s national water system. “I learned more about water by staying home,” DeSaulnier said.