Written by Gabriel Dillard
Gov. Jerry Brown and top Democrats in California’s Legislature have worked out a transportation plan that would add 12 cents a gallon to the cost of standard gasoline and impose other vehicle fees.
“California has a massive backlog of broken infrastructure that has been neglected far too long,” Brown said Wednesday in a press conference, flanked by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
His office estimates that the new fees and taxes will cost most drivers in the state about $10 a month more in what they pay for gas and raise more than $5 billion a year, with the money earmarked to be divided evenly between repairs and upgrades of streets and highways across the state.
The governor noted that the bill — Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act — would come with accountability measures to ensure that money is spent on transportation and not cherry picked to fund unrelated projects.
“Fixing the roads will not get cheaper by waiting or ignoring the problem. This is a smart plan that will improve the quality of life in California,” Brown stated.
But the legislation has raised the ire of Republican lawmakers who say Californians, who already pay some of the highest gas prices in the country, shouldn’t have these new taxes and fees heaved upon them.
“The proposed transportation package released … by the Assembly Democrats is devastating to most of Californians still struggling to find jobs and pay sky-high rent,” Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, a member of the Assembly Transportation Committee, stated on his website after the Governor’s announcement.
He went on to say that “A 12 cent-per-gallon gas tax increase and an increase in vehicle registration fees up to $175 per year makes it even more difficult for those struggling to afford to drive to work, school, or even own a car.
“The 20 cent-per-gallon diesel excise tax increase and the 4 percent diesel sales tax increase will directly lead to increased prices of our food, household items, and everything we buy. Many Californians will not be able to afford this dramatic increase to their cost of living.”
And Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, called SB 1 “an affront to taxpayers. This is the largest gas tax increase in state history but it doesn’t build one mile of new roadway anywhere in California.
“California Democrats should return the billions in highway road and repair funds they’ve stolen for the last decade. And when they do, they will be surprised how much money they have to fix our highways, streets and roads.”
Both lawmakers cited legislation by fellow Republicans that would add much needed money to California’s transportation repair and renovation budget without imposing new taxes — among them Assembly Bill 496, which would include provisions to cut bureaucratic red tape involved in building and repairing roads.
On the opposite side of the fence is the California Chamber of Commerce. President and CEO Allan Zaremberg stated in a news release: “Our transportation infrastructure is critical to California’s economy. The California Chamber of Commerce supports new revenue to repair and maintain our roads and bridges and to reduce traffic congestion. Every day, California drivers spend too many hours in choking traffic on deteriorating roads, while businesses face increased costs and falling productivity from congested highways.
Last week, a group representing local governments and business interests in the Valley held a press conference in front of the California Department of Transportation’s District 6 office in Fresno urging residents to call their state legislators and urge them to work together to develop and approve a transportation bill for California.
They noted that the state hasn’t increased its gas tax to pay for transportation projects in 23 years, but in that time more fuel-efficient and electric cars have reduced gas sales while the number of cars damaging and wearing down roads in the state has increased by millions.
And the Governor’s office noted that Californians drive a combined 350 billion miles plus a year, more than any other state.
Kings County Supervisor Craig Pederson was one of the speakers at the Fresno press conference, noting that because of inflation, repaving a single mile of road in his county costs about $500,000 compared to $270,000 a decade ago.
And communities like his have a large backlog of road projects because state funding isn’t keeping up with the demand and local governments are hard pressed to come up with the money to make up the difference.
That’s why Kings County supervisors voted to support approval of SB 1 or Assembly Bill 1 — which would have provided similar transportation funding, and why Pedersen joined other supporters of the two bills in Fresno.
But now that Brown and his fellow Democrats have worked out a deal to push SB 1 through, Pederson said that while the legislation — along with the resultant taxes and fees — are needed because of the critical shape of roadways and bridges in his county and across the state, he had hoped the Democrats and Republicans could have finally set aside their political differences to put out a better bill ahead of the April 6 goal the governor had set to get a plan passed.
“I’m not a big tax guy, but when you are in a corner where we’ve been pushed … we get stuck supporting measures like this that go beyond just issues of road repair and things like that,” the supervisor said, noting that SB 1 includes millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements that promote walking and bicycling, local planning grants and other projects “that go beyond actually putting money in the roads.
“The required maintenance are the things we need,” which includes repairing and replacing bridges, fixing pavement and filling potholes,” Pedersen said.
“I think, let’s fix the damn roads, and let’s get those back into shape,” before dedicating any of the new revenues elsewhere, he added.
The Governor’s announcement also prompted online comments to The Business Journal, including one by somebody under the name “ed,” who wrote: “Those electric vehicles that Jerry Brown subsidizes with current gas taxes instead of using the money to fix our roads, wear the roads out just as much per mile as the ones that drink the gas. So why not kill the subsidizes, and charge them a equal per mile fee as a gas car? Same goes for all those bike lanes they have used gas tax money to build.”
There certainly will be challenges by Republicans when SB 1 comes up for vote in the Senate and Assembly, and Zaremberg stated in his release that “Raising additional revenues for transportation will not be an easy vote when the time comes, but doing nothing will only ensure deterioration in the system necessary to move people and goods.”
As for whether SB 1 will pass the Assembly and Senate, Pedersen noted that the Democrats have super majorities in both houses.
The bills would require a 2/3 vote from each.
BREAKING DOWN SB 1
State Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 is expected to raise $52.4 billion over the next decade to fund transportation projects across California.
Here is how that money will be spent, according to the Governor’s office:
Fix Local Streets and Transportation Infrastructure – 50 percent
– $15 billion in “Fix-It-First” local road repairs, including fixing potholes
- $7.5 billion to improve local public transportation
– $2 billion to support local “self-help” communities that are making their own investments in transportation improvements
- $1 billion to improve infrastructure that promotes walking and bicycling
– $825 million for the State Transportation Improvement Program local contribution
- $250 million in local transportation planning grants
Fix State Highways and Transportation Infrastructure – 50 percent
- $15 billion in “Fix-it-First” highway repairs, including smoother pavement
– $4 billion in bridge and culvert repairs
- $3 billion to improve trade corridors
- $2.5 billion to reduce congestion on major commute corridors
- $1.4 billion in other transportation investments, including $275 million for highway and intercity-transit improvements
Source: Office of the Governor