San Diego

Calif. Water Tax Proposal Faces Opposition From Local Leaders

A proposed tax bill on water usage moving through the California State Legislature will make it harder for low-income families to afford, not easier as the bill claims, a group of local leaders who are opposed to the tax claim.

Senate Bill 623, the "Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund," would charge every household in the state an additional 95 cents a month, which would pay to operate treatment plants in rural areas where water is polluted. The bill is currently being considered by state assemblymembers. 

Tax dollars raised by the proposed bill would fund water improvement projects through the existing California Drinking Water Act, which requires that the State Water Resources Control Board provide resources ensuring drinking water safety.

Supporters of the bill said the tax is necessary to support projects in low-income areas, which often are not represented in spending, according to the Community Water Center. 

On Tuesday, local leaders including County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, County Water Authority board chair Mark Muir and President of the County Taxpayers Association Haney Hong, among others, will express their opposition to the bill at a news conference. 

Opposers said if the bill passes, it would allow for more taxation on water. Instead, they plan to announce a strategy that would improve access to state water supplies without a tax, according to a statement prepared ahead of the news conference.

Hong told NBC 7 in April that whoever is polluting the water should have to pay – not the rest of us.

He said farmers are essentially causing the pollution, which is an unavoidable byproduct of the agricultural industry. The Taxpayers Association opposed the bill because farmers would only pay 20 percent of the cost of running the water treatment facilities, Hong said.

"Twenty percent of the funding for this correction for the water source, which is an important thing to do, comes from the polluters, and the rest, the 80 percent, comes from the rest of us in California," Hong explained. "That’s not how this should work."

Drought and the need to pump water to San Diego has already raised rates over the last 10 years since the first drought went into effect in 2008.

Hong says the Taxpayers Association agrees that people in poor areas need help to improve water quality, but says this isn’t the solution.

"The polluters need to pay," he said. "If you’re causing the problem, you should have to pay for it."

Several environmental and farming groups support the bill, saying it’s the only way about a million Californians can get clean drinking water.

State Senator Bill Monning, who introduced the bill, put out a statement that read in part: "While I continue to work with a broad-based coalition of supporters on the enactment of my Senate bill (SB) 623, I know we all applaud the governor’s support for the communities throughout California that do not have access to safe drinking water. These Californians deserve better, and I will continue to urge my colleagues in the Legislature to work together with the governor to finally achieve the guarantee of safe and affordable drinking water to all Californians."

No timetable has been set for if or when the bill might make it to the governor’s desk.

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