Never let a good crisis go to waste was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous adage adopted by Rahm Emanuel when discussing the financial crisis that met the Obama White House when he was chief of staff.
Emanuel’s theory was that a crisis can solve long-standing issues and allow the gathering of ideas so everyone gets a little something out of a larger deal.
And that is the case with the state’s most recent water bond measure passed by both houses of the California Legislature and signed by the governor Wednesday night.
The legislation places a $7.5 billion water plan before voters in November and replaces an existing $11.1 billion bond previously approved by the Legislature that was considered too costly and filled with pork.
Gov. Jerry Brown, the ultimate Zen politician, stripped down his proposal last week to about $6 billion sans the water storage component touted by Republican leadership. His ostensible rationale is that a lower amount would be more fiscally prudent. However, adding the water storage component to gain Republican votes would add money and he could place the blame for the escalating cost squarely on the traditionally fiscally conservative GOP, thus negating the argument that the plan is too costly when presented to voters.
And the end result is that the cost is contained and projects will have to compete for the limited revenue, with the rationale that the best projects will win out. So it’s survival of the fittest — another concept that will surely limit debate.
The end package does indeed have something for everyone. It invests in the state’s water infrastructure and builds reservoirs. It cleans up groundwater and will promote new technology that will save water. It only had two no votes in the Assembly and unanimously passed the state Senate. Even legislation pronouncing that kittens are cute wouldn’t get that kind of support.
And so it goes onto the ballot as Proposition 1, with the full support of the governor, the Legislature and all the special interests corralled in Sacramento for much of this week hammering out a deal.
The essence of this deal is that we are in a drought crisis and something needs to be done. If Sacramento cannot agree on at least some initial steps to ensure our water quality and supply into the future, then there is not much point in having elected officials spend so much time in the Capitol right? The writing was on the wall, and after several stops and starts for such a water bond proposal, it was evident this was the time for putting everything on the table and eliminating special projects to keep costs down.
The statewide water shortage has brought up all sorts of unique ideas such as new regulations for well water on which so many farmers depend and reignited the long-standing fight between Northern California and Southern California over which way the water flows and which is more important, the farming industry or the fishing industry. It was starting to get ugly and, if Sacramento hadn’t acted, we were to be faced with a water bond that was probably more expensive than it needed to be and less popular than what was passed this week.
We have now a scaled-back version of a bond with something for everyone to like and something for everyone not to like. But there is more in it to like and it is a plan that shows our representatives in Sacramento do know we must plan well and come together for the future of our state. Churchill would be proud. Maybe even Emanuel too.
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.