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Proposed California tax on tap water meets opposition

Posted at 5:11 PM, May 23, 2018

(KGTV) - A group of San Diego lawmakers, water agencies and business leaders are joining forces in opposition of a possible new state tax on tap water.

Under the proposed State Senate Bill 623, Californians would see an additional 95 cents per month on their water bills.

SB623 is one of two articles of legislation being discussed by state lawmakers that could see residents’ water bills go up by more than $15 per month.

The goal of the tax would be to clean polluted groundwater around the state, particularly agricultural areas where water is considered undrinkable -- with arsenic, lead and nitrate levels that have been compared to Flint, Michigan’s crisis.

State Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), who authored the bill, said SB623 "will establish the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to provide an ongoing source of funding to finance water improvement projects throughout California.

Approximately 300 water systems in California currently have pollutant violations, such as arsenic, lead, nitrates, and uranium that have been linked to nausea and vomiting, cancer, reduced mental functioning in children, nervous system decline, miscarriages, and numerous other health issues.

Support of the fund will come from a fertilizer mill fee, a fee on dairies, and a fee assessed on water bills of no more than $1 a month per household, and is anticipated to generate $140 million a year. Low-income rate exemptions are provided for households under 200% of the federal poverty level."

Numerous agricultural groups and environmental organizations have come out in support of SB623, but many, including the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and other local groups, have said the bill is “counterproductive because it will make it harder for low-income residents to afford this necessity. A precedent-setting tax also could lead to additional taxes on water for a variety of project and programs.”

Water Tax Facing Strong Opposition

Numerous state agencies and coalitions have come out against the proposed tax as well as nearly three quarter of Californians who oppose the measure, according to a recent poll. 

So what do these organizations propose as a solution? The local coalition against the tap water tax has proposed several funding options that address the clean water concerns. 

  • Making polluters pay for groundwater cleanup.
  • Creating a trust fund from state budget surpluses.
  • Using funds from existing and future general obligation bonds. Proposition 68 on the June ballot includes $175 million for safe drinking water.
  • Tapping the state general fund. (The state uses its general fund to pay for other important programs and social issues that have been identified as state priorities, including public health, education, housing and disability services. The public supports using the general fund to pay for programs that serve and protect residents and communities in need.)
  • Applying cap-and-trade funds for localized groundwater contamination cleanup and remediation programs, which would reduce the need to transport water long distances, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Assessing a fee on agricultural products that are connected to the problem of contaminated groundwater.

Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, chairwoman of the County Board of Supervisors spoke out at a news conference Wednesday. “We all support clean, safe and reliable water for all Californians, and we agree on the importance of helping disadvantaged communities improve access to safe water supplies,” said Gaspar. “But we oppose misguided efforts to force Californians to pay a tax on drinking water. That approach will only make it harder for residents to afford this basic necessity.”

“The water tax violates a core tenet of pollution cleanup policy: polluter pays,” said Haney Hong, president & CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. “Why not collect more revenue from the actual polluters rather than all consumers? It doesn’t make sense to place a disproportionate responsibility on ratepayers to clean up groundwater contamination caused by others.”