Proposed Statewide Tax on Drinking Water

Background on Drinking Water Tax Proposals

In March 2017, Sen. Monning introduced SB 623, a bill aimed at funding drinking water solutions for disadvantaged communities. The bill was amended at various times throughout the year, however, language proposing the tax on drinking water was added to the bill on Aug. 21 – just two days before the bill was scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

SB 623 was made a two-year bill on Sept 1, 2017. The Assembly Appropriations Committee referred the bill to the Assembly Rules Committee, where it remains today. The Assembly Rules Committee could refer the bill to one or more policy committees, or move the bill directly to the Assembly floor.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown released his proposed 2018-’19 budget, and the summary document signaled that the administration would be advancing statutory language consistent with the framework of SB 623. The California Department of Finance posted the budget trailer bill language on Feb. 1 that is essentially the SB 623 language.

If the Brown Administration is not successful with the budget trailer bill, Sen. Monning will likely try to move SB 623. Regardless of whether the vehicle is a budget trailer bill or a policy bill, a proposal for a new tax requires a two-thirds majority vote of both the Assembly and the Senate. 

Local, public water agencies are committed to providing safe and reliable water and agree with the intent of the bill. CVWD maintains an oppose-unless-amended position for several reasons, including: 

  • The state should not tax something that is essential to life, such as water and food. The public does not support the precedent of starting to tax resources that are essential to life.
  • The cost of living in California is already too high. Californians do not support a new tax on drinking water.
  • A tax on drinking water would work against the goal of keeping water affordable for Californians.
  • This new law would turn thousands of local water agencies into tax collectors for the state of California

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Alternative Approach

CVWD believes that this important public health and social issue requires focused state leadership. A more appropriate way to fund the solution for this state social issue is a package of funds comprised of ongoing federal safe drinking water funds, voter-approved general obligation bond funds, the agricultural assessments related to nitrate in groundwater proposed in the budget trailer bill and SB 623 and dollars from the state general fund. The state appropriately 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, disability services, and other programs that serve and protect residents and communities in need.

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