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Money for Texas Water Austin Whatever doubts may have lingered as to which of the 10 proposed constitutional , amendments that are to be voted on Aug. 5 is to have the blessing and the no-holdsbarred support of the incumbent administration should have been dispelled once and for all on the afternoon of June 9. That was when almost all the big guns in the state Democratic Party’s conservative establishment dutifully treked to the House of Representatives chambers here to see and hear a slick presentation in behalf of the proposed $3.5 billion, repeat billion, Texas Water Plan expansion. The occasion was the first meeting of the newly formed Governor’s Committee of 500a group hand-picked by Gov. Preston Smith to beat the bushes in all areas of the state in an attempt to pass Amendment No. 2 on the Aug. 5 ballot. Knowing full well what political rhubarbs have been started in some water-rich sections of the state at the very mention of diverting water to areas with water deficits, the governor chose carefully to achieve a balance of committee members from a cross-section of Texas. To cement that and by-pass possible reaction to his leadership, Smith prevailed on his three predecessors in officeJohn B. Connally, Price Daniel, and Allan Shiversto serve as co-chairmen of the committee, thereby providing an endorsement of the plan from all segments of the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. \(Shivers did not attend the meeting, however, because of the injury of his son a few days earlier in a diving accident on the Amendment No. 2, simply stated, would authorize the state to sell $3.5 billion in revenue bonds, backed by the state’s credit, to finance redistribution of the state’s water to areas where that commodity is in , or is expected to be in, short supply. It also would remove the present 4% ceiling on interest on water bonds. If voters okay the proposal, the $3.5 billion would become a lever for state officials to try to persuade the federal government to match with the remaining $5.5 billion of the expected $9 billion price tag on the plan. So far, there has been no firm commitment from the federal government. Not only would the plan allow for the redistribution of water from areas regarded now as having a surplus, it envisions an elaborate system of channeling up to 13 million acre feet of water annually from the lower Mississippi River through a network of canals stretching across northern Louisiana, northern Texas, and into eastern New Mexico. It is reckoned that water problems are as serious in that part of New Mexico as in West Texas, the 6 The Texas Observer major benefactor of the Texas Water Plan. New Mexicans will be expected to pay a part of the tab, should they opt to join in the plan. SMITH MADE it clear at the outset of last month’s meeting that to oppose passage of Amendment No. 2 would be tantamount to being unAmerican or, worse, un-Texan. \(The bumperstickers to be distributed by the your presence indicates your deep concern for the future of Texas,” the governor told the assemblage. “I think your presence is an indication of your devotion to Texas and your desire to serve the state we all By an Observer correspondent. love so well.” He went on to say that former Governors Connally, Shivers, and Daniel “have been tested and found true” in their devotion and dedication to the state. It now was the turn of the 500. The hundreds who attended \(not all 500 did, and certainly not all of the 150 representatives or the 31 senators were and Daniel before Connally, by far the best orator of the group, began a slick presentation of what obviously is to be the campaign message in the coming weeks. Flanked by two 10-foot-square screens on the floor of the specially darkened House chambers, Connally read an inspired account of the state’s projected water needs while a pair of projectionists quietly shuffled through a series of color slides illustrate points in Connally’s remarks. No areas of the state were neglected in the presentation. All bases were touched, but it remains to be seen how effectively. Smith acknowledged the regional feuds over water that have plagued earlier attempts to devise a functional statewide water plan: “Water has been the primary issue in innumerable political campaigns and unlimited debate in legislative halls session after session and generally with negative results. The great diversity of our regional interests lack of complete understanding of our common need and adequate supply, the legal entanglements involving water rights and above all the absence of state leadership, constituted the major factors inevitably resulting in stalemate of all proposed statewide water programs until several decades ago.” IN ADDITION to employing 500 members of the party’s establishment, Smith has turned over the job of packaging and promoting Amendment No. 2 to former White House press secretary George Christian, now the head of the newest Austin-based public relations firm, which is landing more and more accounts as time passes. Christian’s offices in Austin’s First National Life Building are serving as headquarters for the committee. And he assembled and distributed hundreds of copies of the bound Texas Water Plan together with sheets of information on the amendment’s purposes and the names of the chosen 500. Smith also hand-picked various committee heads to work with business, industry, agriculture, lawyers, and so forth in promoting the issue and raising funds. The job of raising money \(Christian estimated the group would need $200,000 former U.S. ambassador to Australia, former opponent to Smith for the Democratic nomination for governor last year, and close associate of Connally and Lyndon B. Johnson. Clark managed at least one passing reference to the former president during a pep-talk with his committee members after the general session. Clark was given what Capitol observers enjoy calling a “blue ribbon committee” to help raise the money. Although Christian told the finance committee that the campaign would be run just as any other political campaign \(“cash insisted that donations and contributions were tax-deductible. He offered to obtain an opinion to that effect from the top tax expert in his own law practice, but he and others balked at the idea of requesting an opinion from fellow Austinite R. L. Phinney, regional director for the Internal Revenue Service. Commented Clark: “I’d be shocked fi anyone said these were anything but a donation to a community civic project.” What backers of this project are eyeing is the potential of that $3.5 billion in bond money. For one thing, it will cost the state’s water users \(those designated as the much more in interest payments alone \(see Obs., to make about $10 million in the sale of those bonds. Banks stand to gain hundreds of millions more serving as depositories for the billions. Water users would pay it all through the purchase of water. WHAT SMITH and his army of 500 face is a reluctance on the part of many Texans to approve bond issues. There are those who are still sore at the passage of a $75 million issue by Connally to build new state parks. Several major bond proposals including a multi-million dollar one attempted by the Houston Independent School District have been crushed overwhelmingly at the polls in recent months.