By Tim Hunt
Republicans put forth their state transportation planUploaded: Jul 9, 2015
Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of San Ramon joined her Republican colleagues last week to present an interesting alternative approach to funding transportation in the state.
The Republicans were responding to Gov. Brown's call for a special session of the Legislature to deal with both Medi-Cal funding and transportation funding. As I wrote last week, when the governor announced the special session he wrote that fuel taxes generate about $2.3 billion for maintenance and repairs annually, leaving a shortfall of $5.7 billion that needs to be addressed. I also observed that with the state pushing very hard to significantly increase the percentage of electric vehicles in the statewide fleet there needed to be a fundamental change in the funding formula so all vehicles using the roads share in the maintenance costs.
Baker and her colleagues issued a well-conceived plan to using existing funds to put $6 billion more into the roads fund.
It would use the following sources: 40 percent of the cap-and-trade revenues; existing vehicle weight fees that were diverted to other uses during the recession; half of the governor's $400 million strategic growth fund that he has discretion to use as he pleases; eliminating what the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates are 3,500 redundant positions at CalTrans; eliminating one-quarter of long-term vacant state positions with the savings going to transportation; allocating General Fund money routinely to transportation.
Spending in the last two state budgets grew by $8.1 billion and $7.5 billion and the analyst's office is estimating an additional $4 billion for the fiscal year that starts in July 2016. The analyst's office shows its three-year forecast would allow $1 billion from the general fund each year.
This is a simple, common-sense approach as are wiping out the redundant positions and returning the vehicle weight fees to their intended use. The cap-and-trade funds, which has become what amounts to a revenue gushing slush fund, will be more difficult. Sixty percent of those funds were allocated in the budget to high-speed rail (the bulk) plus public transit, affordable housing and sustainable communities.
It would be wonderful if the high-speed rail would go away and those funds could be diverted to transit and roads that people would actually usebut the governor has been determined to push that legacy project regardless of soaring costs and a questionable (at best) overall plan.
The Republican plan also calls for relief for transportation projects from the California Environmental Quality Act, something that a downtown Los Angeles stadium and a downtown Sacramento basketball arena received. Certainly, transportation is more important than stadiums and arenas.
Another wise change is removing the California Transportation Commission from the clutches of the Transportation Agency where Brown placed it in 2012. Until that re-organization, it had been an independent agency without direct control of the administration. This likely will be tough sledding in the Legislature, but it absolutely is the correct policy.