I have read the text of the proposed SB 623 legislation, re-introduced this year, and have the following objections:
1) While the water tax is currently proposed to be $.95 per month per household, the rate can be increased in the future if the State Board determines that the funding need is greater to assist communities with problematic water supplies.
Water is a basic requirement for life…should it be taxed even more than what it costs to produce it (Prop. 218 stipulates water sellers cannot charge more than the cost of supplying the water). Any one who declares themselves impoverished (below 200% of the federal poverty limit which would be roughly $98,000/year for an individual) is exempt, but must file with their local water agency for exemption. Will the poor all apply for exemption?
2) Public water agencies would be mandated to collect and administer the tax monies to the State but on page 19 of the SB623 text, Section 6 says the State is not required to re-imburse local agencies unless the Commission on State Mandates determines it necessary.
SB 623 would ignore the California Constitutional mandate that local government be re-imbursed for collecting and administering state mandates.
3) Polluters would “not be subject to enforcement undertaken or administered by State Board or regional boards under Chapter 5 (section 13330) for causing or contributing to an exceedance of a water quality objective of nitrate in groundwater” if the proposed Fertilizer Safe Drinking Water Fee or Dairy Safe Drinking Water Fee gets paid within 90 days of the contamination determination. Why allow the polluters to continue contaminating the groundwater??? (see page 17 of the SB 623 text)
4) Again, in Section 5, SB 623 would erase the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act that mandates the State and regional boards oversee and enforce pollution control regulations to protect groundwater drinking supply safety for the public. This bill would PROHIBIT the State Board or a regional board, until January 1, 2035, from “subjecting an agricultural operation, as defined, to specified enforcment for causing or contributing to a condition of pollution or nuisance for nitrates in groundwater if that agricultural operation demonstrates that it has satisfied other requirements of the timely payment of the fertilzer safe drinking water fee or the dairy safe drinking water fee, as applicable, into the fund.”
5) SB 623 states the money collected with all these new taxes must only be used for projects addressing problematic groundwater supplies, but COULD be transferred to other uses with a 2/3 vote of the legislature (section 116771 (f) on page 13 of the text). I do not trust legislators not to dip into this fund for other “public benefit projects”
6) SB 623 would allow community water systems to apply for exemption from collection of the per-household water tax, based on the finding that the amount that would be required to be remitted to the Board to be minimus, but the water company cannot appeal if the State denies their application. (116771 (d) on page 13. Under 116772 (a) a public water system can apply to use an alternate assessment method for charges imposed by SB 623, but that alternate method, if approved, could only be used for five years maximum.
7) SB 623 would require County Environmental Health Agencies to submit a list of all small water systems to the State Board by
January 1, 2019. Again, this is requiring local government to spend time on meeting the State requirements but not getting re-imnbursed. Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Agency staff does not have a comprehensive list of all small water companies but is working to collect that information for another State mandated program, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Plan, required to be submitted and approved by the State by January 1, 2020.
8) SB 623 would mandate all fertilizer manufacturers, handlers, transporters and sellers to allow State Board access to any and all accounting practices, facilities and related information. It would also mandate all dairies allow State Board access to any and all buildings and facilities as well as accounting practices and information. NONE of this information however, including the audits of Safe Drinking Water Fees by the polluters, would be public information. (section 116772 (d) and (e)). I do not trust that big corporations that may be contaminating groundwater would be held accountable for money paid in order to continue polluting. Under SB 623, members of the public would not be able to file a Public Records Act request to find out.
9) How much of this new tax money would actually get spent on improving problematic groundwater drinking supplies? SB 623 allows the State Board to spend 25% of the fee money on administration.
10) How will the State determine who gets the money? SB 623 requires reports of problems by all water agencies to be submitted for consideration. The money can be spent for “settlements from parties responsible for contamination of drinking water supplies” (Section 116768(1c), and in Section 116768 (2) states :” funds shall be prioritized for CONSOLIDATIONS”. SB 623 removes mutually-owned water companies from the list of eligible applicants for project money. These systems should also benefit from the possibility of grant assistance to improve water quality for safe potable use.
Why would the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors want to support SB 623???.
Please DO NOT APPROVE THE RECOMMENDED RESOLUTION TO ENDORSE SB 623. Please respond.