Friday, May 13, 2011

Forget It, Jake. It's Water Policy

We're still chewing over this excellent piece from Cal Watchdog. We watched Chinatown (easily one of our all-time favorite films) yesterday while Blogger was down; it's good to know that water policy in California is just as corrupt now as it was back when men wore hats and Los Angeles was still a small town.

You may think you know what's going on, Mr. Gittes, but trust me: you don't.
At issue is what may arise if the mammoth $11.1 billion 2012 water bond becomes a casualty of the state's desperate financial situation. According to the piece's author, Wayne Lusvardi, a coalition of northern California environmentalists is gathering around the idea of replacing the bond with the so-called Public Goods Water Charge first proposed by the Public Utilities Commission. This would mean a statewide excise tax on retail water usage, half of whose revenues would go to the creation of a massive, centralized water bureaucracy known as the State Water Commission and Delta Stewardship Council. As such, these environmentalists would grab control of all future water projects in the state, as well as land use rights in the Bay Area, and California water policy would be guided entirely by environmental concerns, regardless of the cost to the economy. The environmentalists behind the excise tax are trying to make it more palatable to their friends in the Legislature by appealing to conservative rural lawmakers as well: the law would include a surcharge to divert water from urban areas and large farmers toward rural "eco-tourism", rustic recreation areas, and the development of new reservoirs (which could reawaken the rural fishing industry).

But it gets worse. Legislators representing working-class communities are already working on a series of bills known as the "Human Right to Water Package". These laws essentially call for taxpayers to fund the clean-up of contaminated local groundwater basins in the communities in question; these communities would then have cheap water without the excise tax, with someone else paying the bill. One bill, in particular, would require the state to guarantee safe drinking water at any cost. If enacted, this set of bills could create a scenario where communities lobby for exemptions to excise taxes but insist on any new water from the projects those taxes fund.

This situation demonstrates why private property rights are such a wonderful thing; could there possibly be a worse method of allocating water among 34 million people than the blind political ambitions of a handful? Put another way: is using water to create "social justice" for the few at the expense of the many a wise or moral thing to do? The free market couldn't possibly be more of a godwaful mess than the current arrangement.

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