Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pat Brown as Model

Given the current state of our infrastructure, we couldn’t ask for our governor to have a better model than the one who did so much for it in the past, and the public will, as it has in the past, respond to a strategy presented with clarity and straightforwardness about an issue like water supply, having such an important place in our future.

Editorial: A Pat Brown-wannabe needs broader support
Lawmakers must identify who will pay for water before asking voters for bonds
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and key state lawmakers seem far apart on how to address California's immediate and long-term water challenges. And while it's admirable that they are finally focused on repairing the long-neglected Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, they'd be wise not to ask voters to approve a costly water bond as early as February, given the gulf that divides them.

Schwarzenegger last week upped the stakes by submitting a $9 billion water proposal to the Legislature's special session -- $3 billion more than he had previously floated. Most would be spent on three reservoirs -- Temperance Flat above Fresno, Sites in the upper Sacramento Valley and Los Vaqueros in the East Bay.

The scale of the governor's proposal is astounding. When former Gov. Pat Brown launched the State Water Project, he depended on a $1.75 billion bond approved by voters in 1960 (worth $11.7 billion in today's dollars). That investment helped launch the massive Lake Oroville and construction of the California Aqueduct, with water users eventually paying back more than 80 percent of the investment, including interest.

By contrast, Schwarzenegger is poised to spend nearly as much as Pat Brown to produce far less water, and with no beneficiaries signed up to repay their share. Assuming voters approve the $9 billion, the governor promises he will obtain commitments from water users before any public monies are spent. Yet taxpayers and voters are likely to be wary of such "trust us" arguments.