Legislators take tough first steps in fixing state's battered roadways
When the state Legislature did what it had to do to find a solution to start fixing California’s battered highways, bridges and roads, it did so on a mostly partisan manner that revealed a) Gov. Jerry Brown successfully pushed an unpopular tax and fee increase because $52 billion will not appear from out of thin air over the next 10 years; and, b) Republicans continue to mistrust Democrats whenever there is a tax increase, no matter what the cause is.
First, anyone who had driven on the state’s roadways can tell you that repairs need to be made as quickly as possible. The $5.2 billion that the plan will raise annually will help fix major roads and bridges in every part of the state.
We are troubled, as all Californians should, that last-minute maneuvering resulted in restricting future regulations on greenhouse gas emissions on commercial trucks. However, not all bills are perfect and the changes were necessary to get to the two-thirds’ threshold for added taxes.
Critics have blasted the $1 billion used to entice reluctant lawmakers like state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres. However, who can say that $400 million to extend a commuter train from San José to Modesto, and $100 million to construct a parkway between UC Merced and Highway 99 is wasted money?
The extra 12 cents per gallon tax – along with an increase on car registration, running from $25 to $175 depending on the vehicle’s value – will be put to good use.
Republicans, who had little say in the legislation, aren’t buying the argument by the governor and the Democrats that the tax and fee increases were the only solution. (Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, was the only Democrat to vote against the proposal).
The GOP believes that cuts in other programs and better management of tax revenue will generate the funds needed for the repairs. There are an estimated $137 billion in delayed repairs over the next decade.
Assemblymember Jim Patterson, R-Clovis, has been the biggest critic of state Senate Bill 1, which got the required two-thirds vote.
“The $52 billion tax will also put Californians in a special, yet unenviable category – drivers who pay the highest gas tax in the nation,” Patterson said in an April 10 press release. (Actually, the increase will force California motorists to pay the second-highest gas tax in the country, behind Pennsylvania).
Patterson, appearing on a Fresno radio talk show last week, also alleged that a third of the new revenue will instead go for “bicycle trails in the mountains,” parks and payment of high speed rail bonds.
Voters will be asked in 2018 to amend the state constitution that the money be spent on transportation projects.
Our assessment is that we should never have gotten to this point. The Big Recession delivered a major punch to state finances, but our highways, roads and bridges have been ailing for a long time. A two-thirds’ requirement for any tax increases also blocked any efforts at a bipartisan solution until Democrats gained super majorities in the state Senate and Assembly.
SB 1 offers a sensible fix, and should be signed by the governor.