On Wednesday, March 29, Gov. Jerry Brown, along with Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, jointly announced a legislative proposal to repair and maintain California’s extensive road system.
Vehicle user-related taxes would generate about $52 million annually, earmarked for fixing roads, highways and bridges throughout the state.
Brown has been championing this need for several years. At the announcement, he compared the need to repair the state’s transportation system as long over due and no different than a homeowner repairing the roof of the house.
“This is a milestone. For a long time, the state has not been doing what it has to,” Brown said. “We know there is a need. It’s recognized in Washington and here.”
Later he added, “Yes, it costs money fixing what we already have and doing what we have to do.”
The proposal drafts several revenue sources, including a 12-cent increase on the current gasoline excise tax, which has not increased in 23 years. Other sources include a 20-cent increase on the diesel excise tax and 5.75-percent increase in diesel sales tax.
Beginning in 2020, an annual $100 fee will be assessed on zero-emission vehicles. The argument is these vehicles use the road system, too, and their owners should share the cost of repairing it.
Brown defended the funding mechanism vehemently. “‘Pay-as-you-go’ is the usual way to do it, not borrow, which puts the burden on later generations. Those who benefit pay,” he stated strongly. “It’s not perfect, but nothing is and this is long overdue.”
The funds will be allocated to fix local streets and transportation infrastructure, including potholes, public transportation, and improvements to walking and biking corridors.
State highways and transportation infrastructure would receive about $50 billion annually. These funds would be dedicated to repairing highways, bridges and culverts, and reducing congestion on major commuter paths.
The legislation also proposes a constitutional amendment to ensure the new revenue goes solely for transportation projects and not for other uses.
“For decades, our transportation has been getting worse. Our roads suck,” Rendon said.
Both the Senate and Assembly leaders expect the measure to be voted on by Thursday, April 6. Both the Senate and Assembly held hearings on the bill Monday.
However, the response to the proposal was not universal concurrence. Local Sen. Jeff Stone, who agreed that “California’s roads and bridges are in terrible shape,” said in a press release, “Former Governor Gray Davis was recalled for increasing the car tax, and now, adding insult to injury, Democrats want to increase the gas tax motorists pay, which is already among the highest in the nation.
“This so-called plan is the latest assault on working-class people the Democrats claim to represent and will make many hard-working Californians, including our seniors, choose between food and gas or medicine and gas.”
And Executive Director Tom Scott of the National Federation of Independent Business said in a release, “NFIB is firmly opposed to this package of transportation tax increases, which includes the highest gas tax increase in California history. While we can all agree there is a dire need to invest in our roads and infrastructure, Californians already pay billions in taxes every year to fund these repairs. Sacramento already has the money to fix our roads … This is unacceptable.”
But many municipal leaders and representatives of several business groups are supportive of the legislation. California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Allan Zaremberg said, “Asking Californians to pay more is not something the Chamber of Commerce does lightly, or frequently. But in this case, it is the most prudent course of action.
“The basic principle that those who use the roads should help maintain them is one that was embraced by Ronald Reagan and George Deukmejian,” he added. “President Reagan pushed for a hike in the federal gas tax and Gov. Deukmejian took similar action on the state level in 1990.”