More than two months after calling a special session to address California's transportation funding backlog, Gov. Jerry Brown has begun circulating a list of administration proposals on how to pay for it, including a $65 annual fee for drivers and increases in the diesel and gas taxes tied to inflation.
A one-page "transportation package" released Thursday calls for $3.6 billion a year for repairs to California's crumbling transportation infrastructure. The $65 charge would generate $2 billion a year, while $500 million would come from fees charged to polluters and $100 million from so-called "efficiencies" at Caltrans, which the independent state legislative analyst has said is overstaffed.
While transportation, business and transit advocacy groups responded enthusiastically to the proposal, the Democratic governor did not appear to have secured the votes needed for a two-thirds majority in each house of the state Legislature, even from Democrats. Still, advocates urged lawmakers to reach a compromise before the Legislature is set to leave Sacramento on Sept. 11.
"The conditions are getting so bad that if Californians don't commit to prioritizing funding to fix them, we will be facing the failure of a large portion of our bridges, streets and roads," said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, in a statement. "It is well past time for the Legislature to act."
A coalition of labor unions, local government groups and influential business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, had previously outlined a plan that called for $6 billion a year in spending for 10 years.
Brown spokesman Gareth Lacy said in an email that the administration offered its proposal Thursday after numerous meetings with Democrats and Republicans.
"It includes sensible reforms and sufficient revenue to improve our roads, bridges, public transit and trade corridors - all vital to boosting quality-of-life and economic competitiveness," Lacy said.
The Democratic governor called a special session on transportation funding in June but until Thursday there was little indication of a concrete proposal backed by the administration for how to pay for an estimated $59 billion backlog in repairs.
Brown's plan includes concessions sought by Republicans such as requiring regular updates on progress toward highway improvements, streamlined environmental reviews for infrastructure repairs and extending public-private partnerships for construction. But Republicans were quick to reject it.
Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, who proposed his own transportation financing package earlier this year by ending the diversion of taxes meant for road repairs, said Brown deserves credit "for finally getting seriously engaged in the discussion of how we fix our roads."
"Voters know they already pay some of the highest transportation tax rates in the nation and they want this money to be used to fix our roads, not siphoned off to other areas of the state budget," he said in a statement.
Lawmakers in both parties believe the state's transportation tax structure is out of date. They also agree the state can't keep relying on a gas tax that hasn't been increased in 20 years and lets thousands of electric car drivers off the hook for maintaining the roads they drive on.
The current gas tax rises and falls each year based on state projections. Brown's proposal would set it at a fixed rate based on a 5-year average then add index increases to the consumer price index. It also calls for an 11-cent-per-gallon increase on diesel fuel.
Some fellow Democrats remained skeptical. Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who introduced his own transportation funding package earlier this year, called Brown's plan a discussion being floated, rather than a proposal, and said it is being reviewed "to determine its fiscal competence."
"It would create additional revenue but not enough," he said.
Brown's outline also includes:
- $1.6 billion annually for state highway improvements;
- $1.15 billion annually for local streets and roads, including $100 million for environmentally friendly improvements such as bike lanes and sidewalks; and
- $400 million a year in grants to local governments for transit.