- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. | Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday he will veto hundreds of bills unless lawmakers agree on a comprehensive fix for the state’s aging water system.

Overhauling California’s decades-old water system is a priority for Mr. Schwarzenegger, but Democrats and Republicans have not been able to find enough common ground to forge a long-term solution.

“I made it very clear to the legislators and to the leaders that if this does not get done, then I will veto a lot of their legislation, a lot of their bills, so that should inspire them to go and get the job done,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in a speech to community college officials in San Francisco.

Legislative leaders have been meeting with Mr. Schwarzenegger this week to try to reconcile their differences by Friday. By statute, Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has until midnight Sunday to sign or veto bills.

Democrats, who are a majority in the Assembly and Senate and have sponsored almost all the bills sent to the governor, have characterized the veto threat as silly. They said they expect the governor to consider each bill on its merits.

About 700 bills are awaiting action.

“We all want to solve this problem,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat. “We all want to have a breakthrough when it comes to actually achieving something positive here for the people of California, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”

If the leaders do succeed in reaching a compromise, any upgrade to the state’s water system must then win approval in the Legislature. That will get complicated because individual lawmakers will be pressured by water districts, environmentalists, farmers and others to protect the interests of the regions they represent.

Last month, Democrats presented a legislative water package that was supported by some water agencies, farmers and environmentalists.

The legislation sought to strengthen oversight of how water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is used, restore the delta’s ailing ecosystem and set aside money for dams, something Republicans and Mr. Schwarzenegger have insisted upon. It proposed $12 billion in bonds.

The Democratic plan failed to generate support from Republicans, who complained it did not guarantee money to build new dams. Other lawmakers question whether the state can afford to issue billions of dollars in bonds after the Legislature spent the year cutting tens of billions of dollars from education, social services, health programs and other core state services.

California already has $67 billion in outstanding bond debt, a number that’s expected to grow by $44 billion over the next four years, according to an Oct. 1 report released by the state treasurer’s office. The amount needed each year from the state’s already strapped general fund to pay those bonds will rise to $8.4 billion by the 2012-13 fiscal year.

A water deal requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, and thus needs at least some Republican support, because it would include spending money.

Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth said lawmakers are discussing a smaller bond, perhaps between $8 billion and $10 billion, but many of the details of the financing remain to be worked out.

One aspect of the Democratic package that remains part of this week’s discussion is creating a seven-member council that would issue decisions regarding the use of delta water. The makeup of the council and the scope of its authority have yet to be determined.

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