Think that headline is over the top? Think again. Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to turn the normal legislative process, intended at one point in our state’s apparently distant past to be a deliberative process aimed at producing legislation for the public good, into a hostage crisis. The governor has demanded that either he gets a water bill by the end of the day today, or he’s going to just randomly start vetoing bills, even bills designed to do things like help pregnant women get health care.
Credit E.J. Schultz and John Myers for introducing the “hostage” frame into the coverage of the political crisis in Sacramento. Apparently Arnold has decided about 500 bills are to be held hostage, but already about 100 bills have been vetoed. 100 more are going to be signed, in what Myers calls a “let a few hostages go” move apparently designed to show the sane people outside the barricaded room (which would include all 36 million of us as well as the legislators who have so far rightly refused to accept a craptacular water deal) that the governor really is willing to deal.
Do we need any greater sign of how totally state government has collapsed? Our governor, who usually plays the Hollywood hero who rescues the hostages from the bad guys, has now himself become one of the bad guys holding the people of this state hostage to his wild demands.
What are those demands? It’s difficult to tell exactly, but the overall scope appears to be a demand that the people of California take water from those who already have rights to it (Delta farmers, fishermen, wildlife, SF Bay) and give it to those whose water rights are “junior” (i.e. they’re last in line) – and that taxpayers must hand over money to pay for new dams and potentially a Peripheral Canal to benefit a small handful of users (primarily growers in Kern County and new suburbs in the LA Metropolitan Water District’s domain, the aforementioned “junior” water rights holders).
John Laird gives a truly excellent overview that explains that the only other dam built by state government, the Oroville Dam which is a key part of the State Water Project, had 97% of its cost paid for by the actual users of the system, with the other 3% coming from taxpayers in the form of financial support (low-interest loans, for example). Yet the current demand is that taxpayers pay as much as 50% of the cost of a new dam, despite the fact that many Californians will never see any benefit from that dam, a dam which likely won’t be built for a decade or more and which will, because it is likely to be built at low elevation, will not catch much water and will essentially be useless.
Other aspects of the water standoff include the Delta counties, who want to ensure that their water rights are not stolen, and that any deal impacting the Delta should pay for the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and help repair the earthquake-prone Delta levees that have been described as a possible California version of Hurricane Katrina should they fail.
The counties wrote a letter to Sen. Darrell Steinberg voicing their concern that Delta reps have been shut out of the process and that they are about to be sold out, along with the rest of the state, to benefit a small number of politically connected water users who want to cut in line, and hand everyone the bill, to continue unsustainable water uses.
As the hostage standoff continues, let’s hope there’s a California legislative version of John McClane holed up in the Capitol looking to save everyone from the bad guys who, despite all their bluster, are really just after our money.
UPDATE by Robert: See the full list of 94 vetoed bills. Among the dead hostages includes the aforementioned AB 98, putting California’s governor on record as endorsing discrimination against women. His veto message:
Maternity coverage is offered and available in today’s individual insurance market. Consumers can choose whether they want to purchase this type of coverage, and the pricing is reflective of that choice. While the perfect world would allow for all health conditions to be covered, including maternity, I cannot allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.
This is, as I noted back in March, is untrue:
When Wendy Root Askew of Monterey started looking for a doctor she hoped would be her gynecologist as well as deliver her future children, she was shocked to discover her health insurance policy didn’t include a single OB/GYN in her county.
The 31-year-old considered changing health plans. But then she learned that while 85 percent of the plans available in Monterey County offered maternity coverage five years ago, just 15 percent offer it now.
She found only two individual policies that included maternity, but they were three to five times as much as the policy she already had and came with annual deductibles of up to $15,000.
Wendy is a very good friend of mine. And now she, like women across the state, have fallen victim to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s misogyny and greed. Someone needs to let him know we elected him to govern the state, not to play Hans Gruber.