Modesto Bee Editorial: Gas tax makes sense, if state sees our needs

April 4, 2017
BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Set aside arguments over whether California’s roads need repair; just driving beyond your driveway proves that. The state estimates catching up on merely maintaining the state’s 175,000 miles of roads will cost $59.6 billion.

Set aside also arguments about where the money should come from. If there was an extra $59.6 billion sitting around in state coffers, our profligate politicians would have spent such a stash long ago. Those who argue we can redirect part of state’s annual $113 billion budget are severely underestimating both need and resources.

Instead, let’s get to what’s important to the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Leverage. For once, we have some.

Gov. Jerry Brown and his coalition of the contractors, unions and others desperately need Sen. Anthony Cannella and Assemblyman Adam Gray to pass Senate Bill 1. The legislation would increase the state’s per gallon gas tax by 12 cents (a 4 percent bump on a $2.57 gallon of gas). It would also add fees for re-licensing vehicles.

Not surprisingly, the idea is not universally popular. Most Republicans automatically say no. Some Democrats insist improving roads only encourages more drivers to use them, increasing air pollution.

Backers need every senate vote they can get. Being one of the few practical Republicans willing to consider a tax increase, Anthony Cannella’s counts more than most. He sees the enormous need, but he also sees an opportunity.

Sometimes it feels our region is besieged by state government. The state water board is intent on taking more of our rivers. We’ve got more prisons than colleges and far too few doctors. Our air is bad and urbanites don’t value our main industry – agriculture.

Meanwhile, Bay Area housing prices have catapulted beyond the reach of middle-class Californians, so we’re getting a new surge of transplants who fill our rutted, potholed roads.

That’s why both Cannella and Gray – a linchpin vote in the Assembly – are making demands.

“I don’t need a perfect deal,” said Gray, “but I don’t need a deal that ignores us, either. If they can make a commitment to ACE (and the valley’s other priorities) … I will vote for it.”

“I too will vote for it,” said Cannella.

Both followed their statements with an emphatic “if.”

First, they want the Altamont Corridor Express extended into Stanislaus County at least to Ceres. The tax includes money for transit and it cannot all go to LA and the Bay Area. Creating a direct link to Silicon Valley jobs could be “transformative” in Cannella’s words. And they want the promise in writing.

Second, they don’t want weight fees and air board regulations on trucks – vital to our ag industry – to drive truckers out of business.

Third, they don’t want to see the money restricted to repairs. Our region has set aside crucial projects – a better link from Patterson to Ceres, Merced’s University Parkway, Stanislaus’ North County Corridor – for too long. Each is crucial to our economic growth.

Finally, they don’t want any exceptions, loopholes or off-ramps in guarantees the new taxes will be dedicated to transportation.

Their demands are not unreasonable. Our roads are as deplorable as any in the state. We shouldn’t have to wait until someone swerves to avoid a pothole and runs head-on into another vehicle to fix them. But we should not be expected to acquiesce to the same powerbrokers who have ignored us for so long.

“I’m focused on getting our fair share,” said Cannella. Stay focused.