March 31, 2017
By Allan Zaremberg
California’s roads, highways and transit systems are the backbone of our state’s $2.4 trillion economy. Every day, millions of Californians take to the streets to get to work or get their children to school. Billions of dollars’ worth of products move across our state every single day.
But after years of underinvestment, California’s transportation infrastructure is facing a crisis. All around our state, roads are falling apart. California drivers spend too many hours on traffic-choked and deteriorating roads, while businesses face increased costs and falling productivity from congested highways.
This week, the California Chamber of Commerce joined Gov. Jerry Brown, legislative leaders and a broad coalition of business, labor, local government and community leaders to support a new transportation plan that will raise the revenue needed to fix our roads and get California moving again. The plan comes with tough accountability measures and constitutional protections to ensure the money is only spent on the roads, highways and transit systems that are in such dire need of investment.
Recognizing the deterioration in our transportation system is something we all agree on. It is clear that our state highways and local roadways are in dire need of capital infusion. Revenues dedicated to roads have lost purchasing power since they were last increased 23 years ago.
Over time, the bill for our road repairs has added up. The average California driver pays an additional $760 every year in additional fuel and maintenance costs from overcrowded or deteriorating roads.
For nearly a century, user fees like the gas tax have been the basic source of funding for road improvements and upkeep. This has been a wise approach since the responsibility to pay falls on those who use our transportation system. It also insulates transportation spending from reliance on the volatile and intensely competitive state general fund.
Indeed, for nearly 80 years the state Constitution has shielded gas taxes from being spent on other general programs. Long term infrastructure projects need a reliable, consistent long term funding source.
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 plan would ask the average motorist to pay less than $10 per month.
The basic principle that those who use the roads should help maintain them is one that was embraced by Ronald Reagan and George Deukmejian. President Reagan pushed for a hike in the federal gas tax and Gov. Deukmejian took similar action on the state level in 1990.
Investing in transportation improvements will save taxpayers money in the long run. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that for every $1 spent on road improvements, there is an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, fewer traffic delays, lower fuel consumption and improved safety. It costs eight times more to replace a failed road than it does to maintain a road.
There is a difference between frivolous spending and smart investments. Fixing our roads and transportation systems is an investment in our future that will help our economy grow, and improve the quality of life for California residents and businesses.
This is a responsible investment. The public and our economy will be the beneficiaries of a comprehensive funding solution.
Investing in transportation improvements will save taxpayers money in the long run. The Federal Highway Admin-istration estimates that for every $1 spent on road improvements, there is an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, fewer traffic delays, lower fuel consumption and improved safety. It costs eight times more to replace a failed road than it does to maintain a road.
Allan Zaremberg is president of the California Chamber of Commerce.