As part of his budget recommendations last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed to revive the water tax as a means to help poor and small water districts provide safe drinking water.
During the Legislature’s last session, the proposal to tax water bills throughout the state met with strong opposition, regardless of the reason and how the funds might be used. Many opponents who support improving water systems in districts that have little revenue argued that the General Fund should be the source of revenue and not a special tax on water use.
Last week, another bill was introduced to address this need and would establish a Safe Drinking Water Trust.
Funding for the trust would be from the General Fund “during a state budget surplus year, such as the current budget year.” Net income earned from the trust would be transferred to a Safe Drinking Water Fund, which the State Water Resources Control Board would administer, according to the press release from the Association of California Water Agencies.
Author of Senate Bill 669, an alternative to Newsom’s proposal, is Sen. Anna M. Caballero, D-Salinas, and both the Association of California Water Agencies and the California Municipal Utilities Association support this approach for helping disadvantaged communities.
SB 669 establishes a statewide tax on drinking water. A water tax would work against keeping water affordable and would be highly inefficient with about 3,000 local water agencies becoming tax collectors for the state. The administrative costs for local districts would approach the amount of the tax, according to ACWA, which made this argument in its original opposition to the water tax.
“While most Californians have access to safe drinking water, certain disadvantaged communities do not, and we strongly agree with Gov. Gavin Newsom that this is a critical public health issue that the state must address,” said Cindy Tuck, ACWA deputy executive director for Government Relations in the press release. “The record budget surplus for the 2019-20 fiscal year makes this the perfect time to create and fund a Safe Drinking Water Trust and ensure access to safe drinking water for residents of these disadvantaged communities. The Trust is a better approach than a statewide water tax.”

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