Brown uses political wiles to deliver on road tax

Santa Cruz Sentinel
April 8, 2017

Pardon us, but didn’t Santa Cruz County voters just put in place a tax to fix our roads and improve transportation?

Yes, we did.

So, should local residents who drive vehicles, and use roads and other infrastructure, be upset over yet another state tax measure that will make it yet more expensive to work and live here?

Because Gov. Jerry Brown, through some pretty impressive arm twisting and politicking, convinced enough legislators to pass a $52 billion tax measure Thursday night that will jack up gasoline prices and add a new levy to vehicle registration fees.

Santa Cruz County voters in November approved a 30-year, $500 million tax measure for local transportation and road improvements. That vote made the county a “self-help” county, eligible for matching state transportation improvement funds. Which means the county will get $6 million annually through SB 1, while the city of Santa Cruz will get $1.48 million. Watsonville will receive $1.21 million; Scotts Valley, $278,000; and Capitola, $232,000.

Considering that Democrats already hold two-thirds majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly, it still took some deft maneuvering by the four-term governor to get this through. Brown did it with old-fashioned horse trading and by coming up with enough earmarks in the bill to placate environmentalists and anti-tax crusaders.

When environmentalists worried that a deal already struck allowing trucks to continue to emit diesel pollution, the governor and allies came up with $50 million to pay for zero and near-zero emission engines for the state’s ports and warehouses.

To get support from two wavering Democratic Riverside County legislators, Brown came up with another $427 million to deal with traffic impacts and infrastructure in their districts.

And Brown even got one Republican vote. He needed it because Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda, opposed the taxes. But that vote costly. Sen. Anthony Cannella, a Republican from Ceres in the Central Valley, told Brown he would support the tax package if the state agreed to support a $400 million extension of the Altamont Corridor Express train, which carries Central Valley passengers to Silicon Valley. When they realized they were a vote short in the Senate, Brown and Democratic legislative leaders agreed to extend the train to Cannella’s district. .

The passage of the taxes was yet another indication of the powerlessness of Republicans in California. Their opposition was only token to this major tax increase, coming on top of other taxes Brown and Democrats have pushed through,

It didn’t help that the California Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations supported the legislation and paid for ads on the necessity of improving congested freeways, rebuilding bridges and fixing pothole-rutted roads. A tax on people who use the state’s road and highways was a better option than a measure that would have borrowed the money.

Congressional Republicans are still trying — a delegation banded together to send a letter to President Trump and transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, to withhold $650 million in vital federal funding to improve CalTrain, the commuter rail line running between San Jose and San Francisco. The letter was ill considered, especially since it really wasn’t about CalTrain, but attempt to derail Brown’s cherished high-speed rail line. Not surprisingly, considering how badly Trump did in California in the last election, the president and Chao backed the Congressional Republicans.

Give Brown credit, though. He showed grit, political acumen and the kind of leadership willing to accept tradeoffs for the greater good — and for greater taxes in our already high tax state.

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