Gov. Jerry Brown pushes for scaled-down, $6-billion water bond

Gov. Jerry Brown backs a $6-billion water bond proposal instead of the $11.1-billion plan now set to go before voters in the fall.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Gov. Jerry Brown told legislative leaders Tuesday that he wants a $6-billion water bond to be put before voters in November — a substantially lower price tag than proposals making their way through the Legislature.

Brown also made clear that he has concerns about the $11.1-billion bond now set to go before voters in the fall, according to legislative sources familiar with the conversations. That bond, originally written in 2009, would direct $3 billion for storage projects. But opposition from Brown could seriously harm its prospects if it remained on the ballot.

According to the sources, Brown indicated that he would want one-third of the bond — $2 billion — for water storage. Republicans and Central Valley Democrats had wanted at least $3 billion for storage projects such as dams and reservoirs, which are a top priority for agriculture interests.


Lawmakers have been floating a number of proposals to replace the current bond. One $10.5-billion proposal by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to advance in the Senate on Monday.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who had warned Republicans that Monday might be their last chance to vote on a proposal with $3 billion in storage, said he and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) had a “very good, positive conversation” with the governor Tuesday.

“I would describe it as progress,” Steinberg said. “We were talking about the big picture.”

Steinberg said that despite the stalled vote Monday, the debate on the Wolk bond “energized the conversation.”

“Now, in 24 hours, we’re making progress,” he said.

The governor’s office declined to comment on the details emerging Tuesday. Spokesman Jim Evans said that regarding the size of the bond, “the governor is concerned about ongoing debt service and its impact on future budgets.”

The Legislature needs some Republican support to provide the two-thirds vote needed to put a new water bond on the November ballot. It would replace the $11.1-billion measure that’s already there but that supporters fear will not win voter support.

In addition to meeting with Democratic legislative leaders, Brown also had discussions Tuesday with Senate GOP leader Robert Huff (R-Diamond Bar), Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) and Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto), and in a separate meeting, with Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) and Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals).

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Huff confirmed that Republicans were willing to negotiate.

“We appreciate the governor’s direct engagement in this process, as he’s been silent until now,” said spokesman Peter DeMarco. “All parties understand that time is short and discussions are ongoing; we believe a solution can be found that meets California’s immediate and long-term needs.”

The $10.5-billion bond proposed by Wolk “abandoned the statewide approach to improving water management,” DeMarco said.

“Any water bond must give equal balance to expanding California water storage, protecting the environment, moving the water from where it is captured to where it is needed, and helping provide a more reliable and safe water supply for every resident,” DeMarco said.