August 10, 2015
A coalition that includes influential business and labor groups has called for raising at least $6 billion for roads. The move could give lawmakers political cover for approving new gas taxes and fees when the Legislature reconvenes next week.
The plan, backed by the California Chamber of Commerce and trade unions, calls for “reasonable” increases in gas and diesel sales taxes, as well as vehicle registration and license fees. But those taxes would need to be coupled with reforms that provide new spending oversight and move existing transportation dollars out of the general fund.
Simply redirecting existing public dollars “is not enough,” said Jim Earp, a spokesman for an organization that represents over 2,000 construction firms and 80,000 unionized construction workers.
“We haven’t had any significant increase in funding in 20 years, which is why our roads are in such a deplorable state,” Earp said in a Monday press conference. He is the executive consultant for the California Alliance for Jobs.
The proposal also calls for a 50-50 funding split between state and local governments. It has support from the League of California Cities and California Business Roundtable, a group representing 25 of the state’s biggest employers. The plan calls for new oversight of Caltrans.
Any additional taxes or fees would require a supermajority vote, and thus Republican support. Certain Republican lawmakers have offered early support for new fees, as long as the revenues are combined with bureaucratic reforms. But others complain that California drivers already pay more for gasoline than the rest of the country.
Support from Democrats may also present a challenge. The coalition’s plan calls for $1 billion in truck weight fees to be moved out of the general fund, cutting funding for schools and government programs. It also proposes to redirect some cap-and-trade dollars, a program that funds projects meant to reduce pollution. Both of these proposals could be difficult for the Brown administration and other Democrats.
Earp from the alliance said he hopes a middle ground can be reached. The coalition claims that its proposal would actually save Californians money, since the average motorist pays about $700 a year in car maintenance costs, in part due to crumbly roads.
“You can’t kick the can down the road because it’s going to land in a pothole,” said Matt Cate, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, another coalition member. “Republicans need to compromise; maybe the Democrats need to compromise a little bit.”