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Brown, Democrats closing in on water bond deal

By Fenit Nirappil

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Aug. 11 2014 9:28 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, Aug. 11 2014 9:28 p.m. MDT

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, urged passage of two procedural bills that relate to negotiations over a replacement water bond for the November ballot, before the Assembly at the Capitol, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Sacramento, Calif. Gov Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders say they are closing in on a deal to overhaul a water bond measure that was negotiated in 2009.

Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders said Monday they are closing in on a deal to overhaul a water bond on the November ballot, but their replacement plan still needs support from Republicans.

Both houses of the Legislature voted Monday to extend the deadline for printing voter pamphlets, and the governor signed the bill into law. That gives them another two days to reach an agreement.

"Today's legislative action provides additional time to get an acceptable water bond — one that's affordable and considers the needs of all Californians," Brown said in a statement.

The bond proposal would provide money for projects including dams, water recycling and groundwater cleanup and requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers. Democrats hold a supermajority in the 80-member Assembly but do not in the 40-member Senate, where they will need Republican support to put the replacement measure on the ballot.

"We are negotiating hard with the administration, with our Republican colleagues ... to try to get this done," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

He and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, support a $7 billion proposal that would appear as Proposition 1 on the November ballot. That's bigger than a $6 billion plan proposed by Brown, who cautioned against increasing the state's debt, but smaller than an almost $9 billion plan backed by Republicans.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat known for pushing for increased water supply for farmers in Congress, came out in support of the Democratic plan and said she would campaign for it.

A sticking point in the latest negotiations has been funding for water storage projects, including the proposed Sites Reservoir north of Sacramento and the Temperance Flat dam northeast of Fresno. Democrats are offering $2.5 billion in the latest package, while Republicans have demanded at least $3 billion, the amount in the current bond.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said he was supporting the two-day extension because he sees progress in the negotiations.

"We're not there yet," he said.

The bond also faces opposition from environmental groups and some Northern California interests, which say the Democratic proposal enables Brown's plan to build tunnels diverting water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Southern California and Central Valley farms.

An $11.1 billion bond negotiated in 2009 is on the ballot as Proposition 43 but is considered too costly and burdened by pet projects to pass.

Without the two-day extension, language and arguments for the potentially defunct bond have appeared in the ballot pamphlet sent to voters. Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, was one of three lawmakers to vote against the extension in the Senate, saying it reduces the time voters have to consider all issues on the ballot.

Lawmakers have also raised concerns about how the latest bond agreement has been pushed through with minimal public hearings, private negotiations and an expedited schedule. Brown publicly released his bond plan last week after months of lawmakers wrangling.

"Where have we been and where has the administration been since January?" said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "This water crisis has been around these many months."

Associated Press writer Tom Verdin contributed to this report.

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