The Tahoe-Truckee area's water agencies say they oppose a budget trailer bill that is part of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2018-19 budget.
The bill, according to the Association of California Water Agencies, is essentially a modified form of State Bill 623, dubbed the "Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fee."
A Lake Tahoe regional coalition of local water agencies including Tahoe City Public Utility District, South Tahoe Public Utility District, North Tahoe Public Utility District, Truckee Donner Public Utility District, Northstar Community Services District, Squaw Valley Public Service District and Alpine Springs County Water District strongly oppose the legislative proposal, which would tax Californians' drinking water.
"We oppose unless amended," said Kim Boyd, senior management analyst for the Tahoe Public Utility District. "Our issue is more on the tax as a funding mechanism … that money is not going to stay in Tahoe and will go to these disadvantaged communities, which we recognize their need for safe drinking water.
"Your local, public water agencies are committed to providing safe and reliable water and support the intent of the bill. We understand the severity of the problem and the need for solutions. However, taxing Californians' water is not the solution."
Boyd said local water agencies already don't meet California's requirements to receive state funding, and the tax would mean more money leaving the area.
"Not only do we not qualify for state funding but we are also going to be taking money out of Tahoe," she said. "It puts us in a tax collecting situation and opens the door for future hikes on the tax."
The effect of the bill, which was first introduced as SB 623 in 2017, would essentially tax Californians for something that is essential to life, according to the Tahoe City Public District, erode the affordability of water for local water users, turn hundreds of local water agencies into taxation entities that send money to Sacramento, impact families just above low-income thresholds, and would open the door to future taxes on water customers.
"We believe our customers should be aware of this legislative proposal and our efforts to actively oppose it, unless amended to remove the water tax as a funding mechanism," the district said in a statement. "Fortunately, we stand with a growing coalition of local water agencies across California who are pushing back against the proposed tax because it deprives them of local control and unfairly imposes a tax on a basic necessity of life, your drinking water."
Many of the local water agencies are aligned with the Association of California Water Agencies, which stands opposed to the bill.
The bill would establish a fund to be administered by the California Water Resources Control Board to assist those who do not have access to safe drinking water, according to the association. The bill also proposes fees related to confined animal facilities excluding dairies, fertilizer sales and dairies to address nitrate contamination; as well as a state mandated tax on drinking water, which would require local water agencies to assess on their local ratepayers and send to Sacramento.
The association of water agencies outlined several solutions on its website, including federal funding, general obligation bonds, agriculture funding and the setting up of a general fund.
The bill is currently in the Assembly Rules Committee, according to the Association of California Water Agencies Director of Communications Heather Engel, where it could be referred to a policy committee or moved directly to the Assembly floor at any time.
Gov. Brown's proposed budget is scheduled for revision in May, according to ebudget.ca.gov.