This week we will see if Gov. Jerry Brown’s artificial deadline for a $5 billion annual tax increase on Californians will move the Legislature to action. Last week, the governor and legislative leaders announced a deal on a wide-ranging plan to raise taxes to start repairing the state’s terrible roads and transportation infrastructure.
The deal was announced on March 28 and the governor expects the Legislature to act on it by Friday before the one-week spring recess. The timing is to drive the bill through before the Senate so it can move to the Assembly after the break. Doing the budget dominates the Legislature in the spring so proponents want to move the bill through Assembly committees this month.
Of course, the Legislature had been in special session for two years to act on transportation and this is the first deal announced publicly. Given that it takes two-thirds and Republicans are unlikely to vote for it, only one senator can scuttle the bill. In the Assembly, there’s only a one-vote margin for the Dems to get two-thirds.
And, make no mistake about it, this process is about as ugly as it gets. Instead of starting from scratch and introducing a new bill, the agreement was amended into Legislation by Democrat Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose. That bill already had cleared three Senate committees and was passed to the Senate floor by the Appropriations Committee Monday. The earliest, under Senate rules, that the bill can be taken up on the floor is 2:39 p.m. Thursday.
The valley’s senator, Steve Glazer of Orinda, could kill the bill if he opposes it—and the same goes for any other moderate senator. The governor and bill supporters held an event in Glazer’s district last week to turn up the heat.
The bill would raise the gasoline tax, which has not been increased in 23 years, from 28 cents to 40 cents. It would increase the diesel tax by 20 cents and increase the sales tax on diesel to 5.75 percent—you can expect diesel increases to show up in increased prices for anything delivered by truck (virtually everything you buy whether online or in the grocery store.
The measure also establishes an annual transportation improvement fee based on a vehicle’s value that is anticipated to raise $16.3 billion (that’s the second largest pot of money). Another way to look at this is it re-establishes the vehicle registration fee based on the value of the car—a fee that was critical to the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis.
Money would be spent on repairs and bridges totals $19 billion, while $3 billion is set for trade corridors and $2.5 billion for congestion on major commute corridors. For Livermore Valley residents, that could mean more money for I-580 and I-680.
There’s no question that road maintenance on state highways and freeways is awful—I bounced down to San Jose on I-680 twice last week thanks to the rutted, broken-up pavement. We need to invest, but it would have been much more appropriate for an open public process instead of a back-room deal that is being jammed through the Legislature.
The measure also ignores some good ideas from the Republicans, most notably putting truck weight fees into road repairs instead of the general fund. That’s a terrible example of diverting a user fee away from where it belongs.
Given the health of the general fund, which is at record revenue and expenditure levels, putting weight fees into roads is sensible. It’s where they should be, but, during the recession, legislators raided every dedicated fund they could to lessen spending cuts.