LOS ANGELES — Backers of an initiative that would reallocate up to $10.7 billion in unused bond authority from existing high-speed rail and water storage projects to fund water storage projects for domestic and irrigation uses have received authorization to begin gathering signatures, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced.
What its backers have dubbed “The Water Priorities Public Interest and Public Trust Constitutional Amendment” would also prioritize water uses in California, with domestic uses first and irrigation uses second, over environmental, recreational and other beneficial uses.
The initiative would remove the requirement from Proposition 1, approved by voters in 2014, that water storage projects funded by the $2.7 billion in bound authority also benefit the environment.
The initiative would also create the State Water and Groundwater Storage Facilities Authority that would choose the projects to be funded by reallocated bond funds.
Under passage of the initiative, there would be no significant increase or decrease in the state’s anticipated debt payments from the redirection of up to $10.7 billion in bonds from previously approved measures, assuming these bonds would have been sold in the future absent this measure, according to an analysis made by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and Department of Finance.
There would be unknown net fiscal effects on state and local governments due to measure’s changes to how water is prioritized in the state constitution, as well as potential changes to funding levels available for capital projects, according to the analysis.
Valid signatures from 585,407 registered voters — 8 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2014 general election — must be submitted by July 25 to qualify the measure for the November ballot, according to Padilla.
Voters should sign the initiative because “we need to build more water infrastructure now to better prepare for future droughts,” said Board of Equalization member George Runner, who co-authored the initiative with Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, a candidate for the Fifth District seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
“Having reliable, clean and safe drinking water is far more important than building a train,” Runner said.
“The high-speed rail project is a far cry from what voters approved in 2008. The project has more than doubled in cost and has suffered numerous setbacks and delays. Californians deserve another chance to vote on this.”
Passage of the initiative would “help remedy water supply and storm management problems, while building critical water infrastructure for the rest of the state,” Runner told City News Service.
Runner expressed confidence that the measure would qualify for the ballot because “many Californians recognize that the historic drought has changed the priorities of our state. There’s credible polling that suggests that as well.”
The initiative would shift $8 billion in unused bond authority for high-speed rail to water storage projects. The shift would force the rail authority to seek funds elsewhere to complete the project, Runner said.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration declined to comment on the initiative.
Brown has called “high-speed rail a key step in modernizing our transportation system” that “will create much-needed and good-paying jobs.”