By the time you read this, the $11.1 billion bond that was to finance a sweeping overhaul of California's troubled water distribution system may be off the November ballot. Talks, which became public last week, have been going on since May while political support for the bond dwindled.
You can't blame this one on a fickle electorate changing its mind as El Niño rains changed the Golden State into a recovering droughtoholic. No, the blame lies in Sacramento with a state government that hardly works.
Once again, a new California fiscal year arrived without a legislatively approved budget. This time, the gap between wishes and revenue is a shade over $19 billion. What's different than last year, when efforts to cobble together a water bond were sidetracked until the annual spectacle of state government shutdown played out, is that few major players seem ready to compromise with lame duck Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"The poll numbers were discouraging, and the budget cycle promised to be drawn out and ugly," Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, told reporters for the Bay Area News Group last week.
As we pointed out recently in reviewing the candidates for governor who emerged from the primary, what most Californians probably care most about is an uptick in jobs that signals the end of the Great Recession. It doesn't help that talk in Sacramento last week -- besides that of pulling the water bond -- was a lot about whether state employees will get paid in the face of the budget stalemate.
The existing political reality is that even to remove the water bond, already assigned the label Proposition 18 on November's ballot, it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, which referred it to the people in the fall of 2009. Schwarzenegger last week apparently had the support of key lawmakers, and asked the bond be placed on the 2012 ballot.
Foes of the measure, however, were quick to put their own spin on the governor's request. Two outspoken critics said the package is so flawed with special projects that it ought to just flat be killed, and lawmakers should be forced to start over.
We've been a supporter of the water bond, even though with some dismay, as senators loaded it up like a Christmas tree with pet deals. It's going to take a bold move, with substantial financing, to fix the ecologically wounded Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and assure a 21st Century water supply and distribution system for California farmers and urban dwellers.
That said, the Gold--en State's first order of business should be balancing its budget before creditors refuse to buy the credit notes it will have to start issuing again within weeks. And when that's done, some political leaders are going to have to step forward and reform state government itself.