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Give Me Delta Deal First, Then I'll Sign Bills

Denis C. Theriault - San Jose Mercury News


SACRAMENTO — With a midnight Sunday deadline looming, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is refusing to act on hundreds of bills awaiting his signature — a bid to spur legislative leaders into finally overhauling the environmentally fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

SACRAMENTO — With a midnight Sunday deadline looming, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is refusing to act on hundreds of bills awaiting his signature — a bid to spur legislative leaders into finally overhauling the environmentally fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

A deal on the delta, a conduit for two-thirds of the state's drinking water, has eluded legislators and governors for decades. Now Schwarzenegger finds himself with leverage in the more than 700 bills sent his way this past legislative session. They range from the esoteric, such as regulations on honey, to the massive — a bill providing $400 million in extra cash for impoverished schools.

But Schwarzenegger, so far, has sat on all but three. And if a deal on the delta can't be assembled by Friday, there's a very real chance he won't sign any more.

If so, it would mark an unprecedented high-stakes maneuver for a governor who seemingly has thrived on the dramatic.

"There's no guarantee that it will pay off," Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, said of the governor's stalling tactics. "But there's an absolute guarantee that he won't get a water deal without taking this type of risk."

Talks on how to craft a delta package have intensified this week after running aground in the late hours of last month's legislative session. Quietly, while the Legislature was on recess, the governor met with individual lawmakers to maintain momentum toward a deal.

Emerging from a nearly two-and-a-half-hour meeting with Schwarzenegger on Wednesday, top Assembly Democrats and Republicans called the day's discussions positive and said they would continue meeting in hopes of reaching a deal by Friday night.

"Significant progress was made," said Assembly Minority Leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo.

Added his Democratic counterpart Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles: "Things are going forward in a very, very productive fashion."

That was a marked change from the response that followed a shorter round of talks Tuesday, with Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, blasting the governor for tying a water deal to the fate of hundreds of other bills.

Wednesday, though, Steinberg said he was confident the governor will consider the remaining bills "on their merits."

Despite that hope, several significant hurdles remain for an overhaul of the delta — the heart of long-fought battles between environmentalists and farmers and across the geographic fault lines of Northern and Southern California.


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