Brown gets bipartisan rebuke on drought policies

drought.caThe reporters who cover state government have paid plenty of attention to Gov. Jerry Brown’s failures on big initiatives in the Legislature this month, in which the governor got nowhere with his agenda in special sessions on health funding and transportation and saw the central plank of a proposed sweeping energy bill felled by a loss of Democratic support.

But not as much attention has been paid to the criticism a strong majority of the Assembly made of the governor on what he and others have described as California’s biggest issue: how it deals with its profound shortage in water. This criticism was reflected in 47 of the 80 Assembly members signing a letter asking for a special session to consider emergency drought legislation.

The Associated Press, which broke the story, reported that the bipartisan group believed a …

… special session is needed to address the unprecedented water crisis, which could worsen as California faces the prospect of an El Nino weather pattern that could bring severe flooding.

 

“We have seen from widespread reports that as much as half of the $687 million set aside to help drought-stricken communities remains unspent in state accounts – and will remain there until 2016,” says the letter. “In addition, we are seeing the same slow and lethargic project pace with the funds raised as a result of last year’s Proposition 1 ballot measure.”

 

The AP reported in June that more than $320 million that was supposed to be rushed to drought-stricken California communities was sitting unspent in government bank accounts, more than a year after lawmakers voted to use the money to provide water, protect wells from contamination and upgrade outdated water systems.

 

A special session addressing the drought should also include “thoughtful and careful review of environmental policies that — even if well-meaning — may be doing more harm than good,” the letter says.

Young Central Valley politicians taking on the governor

The Central Valley produced many of the 47 signatories to the letter. Assemblyman Devon Mathis, a 32-year-old Republican who represents Tulare and Inyo counties and parts of Kern County, was the leading organizer.

The leader of the opposition to Brown’s and state Senate President Kevin de Leon’s push for a long-term 50 percent reduction in gasoline use — the rejected central plank of the energy legislation — was Assemblyman Henry Perea, a 38-year-old Fresno Democrat.

This suggests that regional politics may be returning to prominence in Sacramento after a long period in which nearly all elected state Democrats went along with an agenda dominated by politicians aligned with environmentalists and union interests based in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Republicans got nowhere with appeals for regional solidarity on some issues.

In 2009, for example, a proposal by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, to help divert some federally controlled water to farmers in the poverty-wracked Central Valley won the support of 37 House Democrats. But only one was from California — Rep. Dennis Cardoza of Merced.

Nunes’ measure suffered a decisive defeat in the House Rules Committee, partly because Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, wouldn’t support it. Matsui grew up in Dinuba, a poor town in Nunes’ district some 30 miles from Fresno.

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