“Voluntary” Water Tax Dies in Legislature

Another attempt by legislators to tax Californians for clean water has failed in a last-minute attempt and the failure has received praise by many. Senate Bill (SB) 845 by State Senator Bill Monning (D-17th District-Monterey) would have added a voluntary drinking water tax of approximately 95 cents onto California ratepayers’ bills.

Although the mandate would have offered an opt-out feature to individuals’ water bills it would have required some 3,000 California water agencies to collect the funds to be sent to the State Water Resources Control Board. The water board would have used the funds to create a new Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund for use throughout the state.

The measure was strongly opposed by the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) who issued a statement on Aug. 21 saying the, “proposed mandate … would be a logistical nightmare for member agencies. It would impose a costly and complicated structure by requiring community water systems to change their billing systems and hire new employees to bill and collect the remittances.”

ACWA instead proposed that the Legislature instead add a new voluntary contribution fund check off to the California Tax Form 540. The Franchise Tax Board could have efficiently collected the voluntary funds at a much lower cost by a single state agency and thereby not increase the cost of water service in California.

The Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA), a business organization in Van Nuys that advocates for a better business climate and quality of life based in Van Nuys, also praised the defeat of SB 845 in the San Fernando Valley Business Journal saying, “This bill would have taken advantage of ratepayers and destroyed the transparency and openness between water agencies and their customers while also making water more expensive statewide,” Stuart Waldman, VICA president. “Local water agencies and districts shouldn’t be forced to comply and operate under a system they’re not equipped for. Everyone wants safe drinking water, but this approach would have proved counterproductive and would have resulted in more challenges than benefits.”

A mandatory tax on water bills for clean drinking water failed in a legislative conference committee earlier this year but instead set aside $23.5 million in General Fund revenue for safe drinking water. In June, voters endorsed Proposition 68 to set aside $250 million for safe drinking water prioritized for disadvantaged communities. Additionally, Proposition 3 is slated for the November 2018 ballot whereby California voters can choose to allocated another $500 million for clean drinking water in disadvantaged communities.

SB 845 author Sen. Monning indicted he was “deeply disappointed” that the bills were not heard in the Assembly and pledged to continue his fight for clean drinking water.

“I do want to assure you that our fight is not over,” he said. “It is not over until we win the support necessary to fulfill the fundamental human right to water for all Californians.”

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