Now Is The Time to Solve Drinking Water Problem Without A Tax

  • by Timothy Quinn
  • May 25, 2018
  • Voices on Water

The debate over funding sources that can ensure safe drinking water for every Californian continues in the state’s Capitol. Everyone agrees on the goal. But what should be the funding source? The Brown Administration is trying to advance a budget trailer bill that is proposing a tax on drinking water. ACWA and a broad coalition oppose the proposed tax and are suggesting alternative funding solutions.

The vast majority of the state’s residents have safe drinking water thanks in large part to ACWA members – local water agencies that work diligently to provide safe drinking water. But there are certain areas, primarily rural and disadvantaged communities, where there is not access to safe drinking water. ACWA and its members strongly agree this is a critical social issue for the state that needs to be addressed.

As many of you know, last year Sen. William Monning (D-Carmel) proposed a funding solution that relies heavily on a new, statewide tax on drinking water. A similar proposal is also included in a budget trailer bill. Proponents are touting a proposed “fee” of less than $1 per month. For the record, it’s a tax. Money collected from Californians by thousands of water agencies across the state and sent to Sacramento to benefit residents in specific areas is a tax. The fact that the bill proposes a tax is why a two-thirds super-majority vote of both houses is required to pass it.

ACWA and a growing coalition of more than 170 cities, local water agencies and business organizations back an alternative funding package comprised of ongoing federal funds from the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, voter-approved general obligation bonds, agricultural assessments related to nitrates in groundwater proposed in the budget trailer bill and general fund dollars. The amount of general fund dollars that ACWA is suggesting is less than 1/10th of 1% of the general fund. This is doable – and what future Legislature is going to say that they should not continue funding safe drinking water?

ACWA conducted a survey earlier this year of 1,000 likely voters and found 74% of Californians agree that these other funding sources are a better alternative than a tax. Supporters of the water tax recently released polling data that claims an opposite result, but I encourage anyone who wants to know the truth to take a closer look at how the questions were asked. When voters are informed that this is a tax, that the funds will be spent somewhere else, and that there are viable alternatives, they overwhelmingly oppose a new tax on drinking water.

A water tax proponent, in an op-ed for Water Deeply, recently accused the water community of opposing SB 623 “without offering any real alternative solutions.” The reality is that ACWA initially offered its alternative solution last summer and has more recently been advancing a package with three additional alternatives. For example, in addition to the above-mentioned recommended funding package, ACWA and its coalition are advancing the creation of an Irrevocable Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Trust, which would establish a perpetual source of funding. Other viable alternatives include lease revenue bonds and an allocation of Cap and Trade funding.

ACWA members are also advancing other tools to help disadvantaged communities without resources to deliver safe drinking water. For example, AB 2050 (Caballero, D-Salinas) would create small system water authorities with adequate resources to attain drinking water compliance. While this won’t solve the problem by itself, it would play an important role is advancing safe drinking water accessibility.

Legislators in both houses and on both sides of the aisle are interested in alternatives. Now is the time to finally solve this problem – and do so without a tax on drinking water.

Details about ACWA’s funding alternatives and polling results are available online at www.acwa.com/no-water-tax.

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