Local, State Officials Push For $6 Billion Infrastructure Bill Funded By Tax Increases
(BANT) – A state Senate bill that promises to fix California’s battered roads and bridges with $6 billion a year from gas tax and vehicle registration fee increases is set to go before the Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday.
State and local officials held a news conference in San Jose Monday to urge legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown, who supports the bill, to pass a transportation package before spring recess begins on April 6.
Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, introduced Senate Bill 1, the Transportation Infrastructure and Economic Investment Act, on Dec. 5, after two-and-a-half years of work.
“We have a terrible challenge with our roads,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who is a commissioner on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and vice chair of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
San Jose faces a current road repair backlog of $584 million, up from $250 million seven years ago, Liccardo said. Almost one in every 4 miles of street infrastructure in San Jose is in poor condition, up from 6 percent in 2006.
“That is a serious cost to every one of our residents,” Liccardo said, citing a report by the national transportation research group TRIP that says potholes cost San Jose residents $863 a year in car repairs.
“It’s fiscally irresponsible to wait till roads fail,” Beall said.
Orinda City Councilwoman Amy Worth said that the state has a $73 billion backlog in needed repairs for local streets, “but the money isn’t there.”
The bill would phase in a 12-cent gas tax increase, restore the price-based gas excise tax rate to 2010 levels, increase the diesel excise tax by 20 cents and diesel sales tax by 4 percent, charge drivers an additional $38 to register their vehicles and require zero-emission vehicles to pay an annual $100 fee for road maintenance and repair.
Those revenues adjustments would account for $5 billion a year, according to Beall’s office.
The bill would also reallocate $500 million a year in existing truck weight fees to road maintenance and repair rather than paying down transportation bond debt service.
The bill was passed 4-2-1 by the Environmental Quality Committee and 8-3-2 by the Transportation and Housing Committee last month. Its Republican opponents cited the state’s history of diverting gas tax funds to non-transportation programs.
“We have the highest gas taxes in the country. We have some of the highest vehicle license fees in the country,” Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Riverside County, who opposed the bill in the Environmental Quality Committee, said Monday afternoon.
After billions of dollars of Proposition 42 funds were diverted to non-transportation programs, Stone said legislators should be wary of gas taxes.
“It really is a priority issue with our budget. It’s not a funding issue,” Stone said.
Beall said this morning that the only realistic alternative he had seen to his bill was to dip into the general fund, which would hurt public schools, a statement that Stone said was overly simplistic and misleading.
Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, opposed the bill in the Transportation and Housing Committee last month, going so far as to advocate cutting the high-speed rail project.
“California diverts $1 billion in weight fees away from transportation infrastructure every single year. Let’s put that money back into road building before shaking down commuters and businesses even more,” Gaines said.