California Legislature Stops Advancing on Voluntary Drinking Water Tax

September 4, 2018 Updated: September 4, 2018

The bills seeking to create a voluntary drinking water tax on California residents and a mandatory tax on dairy producers and fertilizer manufacturers lost its chance to make it through the state legislature as the Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced a stop to pushing the bill forward on Aug. 31.

“The Assembly is committed to identifying a sustainable funding source to ensure safe drinking water for all Californians,” Rendon said in a statement. “But much more needs to be done, and a piecemeal funding approach won’t work.”

Global Tap tap water refilling station in San Francisco
A man fills a bottle of water from a Global Tap tap water refilling station on Jan. 24, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This came as another failure for the California lawmakers, who unsuccessfully pushed a mandatory drinking water tax through the legislature in June this year and later tried again by changing from mandatory to voluntary. The bills proposed to establish a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund with the revenue, which will be used to provide safe drinking water in vulnerable areas that are threatened by nitrates, lead, arsenic, and other contaminants.

Senate Bill 845 would require that starting from July 1, 2019, a voluntary drinking water tax be automatically added onto California ratepayers’ bills. Customers would need to opt out via their community water system in order to avoid the tax, which was expected to cost 95 cents for most customers. In addition, Senate Bill 844 proposes a mandatory fee on dairy producers starting in 2021 and fertilizer manufacturers starting in 2019.

Gov. Jerry Brown backed these two bills, which were expected to collect as much as $100 million a year. However, opponents of the bills believe it is unnecessary to add additional burden on ratepayers.

“Given our current $9 billion surplus, there is ample money in the general fund to pay for clean water projects without this new tax”, said Assemblyman Jay Obernolte to The Sacramento Bee. “What we lack is the political willpower to spend our existing resources on these vital government services rather than imposing new taxes on our citizens.”

In the wake of a recent recall of Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who voted yes on the $52 billion gas tax, many California lawmakers are not willing to support any new tax or tax increase.

However, the author of the bills, Sen. Bill Monning, expressed his wish to continue working on this issue. “I do want to assure you that our fight is not over,” he said to The Sacramento Bee. “It is not over until we win the support necessary to fulfill the fundamental human right to water for all Californians.”