EMWD Part of Trio Co-Sponsoring Legislation for Tax-Free Solution to Safe Drinking Water Needs

By on March 4, 2019
Eastern Municipal Water District

With more than a million Californians – primarily in disadvantaged communities — lacking safe drinking and bathing water, Senator Anna Caballero (D-12th District-Salinas) has authored Senate Bill 414 (SB 414) and Senate Bill 669 (SB 669) to provide a cooperative governance and funding solution to yield an equitable and sustainable alternative to the state’s previously proposed water tax. Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD), the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) and Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), have co-sponsored portions of dual-approach legislation.

Co-sponsored by EMWD and CMUA, SB 414 would create the Small System Water Authority Act of 2019 better served Californians who are served by non-compliant water systems many of which are small systems located in rural areas. SB 414 would address the governance and public oversight of these failing systems by associating them with larger systems such as EMWD.

With the promotion of consolidating systems and governance reform, water customers will have greater oversight of their systems through better accountability and transparency. Customers would also realize economies of scale through consolidated systems and thereby the ability for agencies to invest in needed improvements to achieve system compliance.

“EMWD is committed to working on behalf of our customers, and that includes sponsoring legislation that will protect our customers from a tax that would not solve the root cause of system failures,” EMWD President Ron Sullivan said. “By promoting accountability and transparency, we can ensure all Californians have access to safe drinking water without the need for a tax.”

SB 414 is similar to a bill also co-sponsored by EMWD and CMUA last year, Assembly Bill 2050 (2018). Although the bill had overwhelming support by both houses of California’s legislature it was vetoed by then-Governor Jerry Brown. Now, Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed a monthly water tax on all public water agencies’ customers. EMWD is a leading advocate for alternative solutions and opposes the proposed new water tax.

Sen. Caballero’s SB 669 seeks to resolve the need for a permanent tax on customer water bills. Co-sponsored by CMUA and ACWA, SB 669 would establish a sustainable funding source with existing budgetary surplus funds.

When then-Gov. Brown vetoed the 2018’s AB 2050 he cited the lack of long-term funding as a major reason for his decision. SB 669 resolves that issue without an ongoing tax. Existing law declares it to be the established policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.

SB 669 proposes to create a trust account that would be funded by State General Fund dollars during years of budget surpluses. The bill would create in the State Treasury the Safe Drinking Water Trust Fund to hold the trust property of the Safe Drinking Water Trust. The bill would create the Safe Drinking Water Trust Commission, consisting of 3 members, to serve as the trustee of the trust.

The trust account would be allocated by the State Water Resources Control Board and would be eligible to receive additional funding from general obligation bonds, the Safe Drinking Water Fund, and ongoing Federal Safe Drinking Water Funds to provide a sustainable funding solution. Moneys within the fund at the close of a fiscal year would remain in the fund and would not revert to the General Fund. Collectively these funds could only be used for operations and maintenance, replacement water, costs for consolidation of systems, and the appointment of an interim administrator.

EMWD’s Sullivan notes the benefits of both bills saying, “When paired together, these legislative solutions can provide a pathway and a funding source for all Californians to have access to safe and reliable drinking water without the need for a water tax. We believe this is a sustainable and responsible solution that benefits every Californian.”