California roads are a mess. Traffic is ridiculous and the roads themselves are in disrepair. One reason for this is because there hasn’t been a gas tax increase in 23 years. That has changed as of now, however. After a week of brutal deliberation among conflicting interests, a plan to increase vehicle fees and gas taxes by $5.2 billion per year was approved by Legislature. The gains are to be used to repair the deteriorating bridges, roads, streets and highways of California.
The bill barely made it through the Senate on the 27-11 vote it ended with. It had 54 Assembly votes. Those are the absolute lowest numbers a bill can have in both houses and still pass. The deliberations lasted way off into the night with the Democrats of the Assembly three votes short of the two-thirds they needed at the onset. In the end, Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) was the only Assembly Democrat not to back the bill. Gov. Jerry Brown was a huge proponent of the bill saying it was necessary after not having such a tax or expense in 23 years and the logjam of over $130 million in replacement and repair projects needed throughout all of California.
Those touting the bill explained it would not just fix and maintain the roads. Many claim it will also boost the economy and make the roads safer and traffic better. The overwhelming majority state the roads are just too bad and have become a danger to the public in most places around the state. Legislative leaders had set a deadline on themselves to begin action on the bill by Thursday which is just before the spring recess.
It might seem like a no-brainer but it wasn’t an easy win. Many voters had to be persuaded. Much cajoling went on and the governor wound up releasing almost $1 billion to certain transportation projects in districts where the legislators had been on the fence over the bill. One of the projects funded is a commuter rail line between Merced and the Bay area. Bakersfield Senate Republican chastised Democrats for paying for their votes, explaining it encourages people to vote for the wrong reasons. Legislators described the day’s conversations as very tense.
The legislators against the bill wanted the money to come from other sources or be diverted from other projects. Republican Senator Jeff Stone of Temecula detailed his predictions that such a tax hike will injure the small business sector and low-income citizens who will have to choose between gas and a meal. He was quoted in the L.A. Times saying, “The state Senate tonight passed yet another tax on hardworking Californians because we continue to fail the people by wasting money on programs we can’t afford.”
Details were released which explained a base excise tax on gas of .12 cents per gallon which brings the total to .30 cents. Ne other variable excise tax is set to go up to .17 cents. Diesel fuel excise tax will go up to .20 cents per gallon with a sales tax that will go up four points. Electric cars will also be taxed a $100 annual fee. There will also be an annual vehicle tax expected to be near $25 for cars worth $5000 or less and $175 for those $60,000 or more.
The first $34 billion of incoming funds will be allotted to repairing bridges, culverts, roads, and highways that are in the worst disrepair. The majority of the funds will be split 50/50 into state and local projects. Over the first decade, over $7 billion will be allotted to mass transit agendas. An undecided amount will go to roads servicing Long Beach, Los Angeles, and to reducing congestions in the worst commuter routes.
There were some groups from the agricultural industry such as the Western Growers Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation. Representatives from both organizations worried that more fuel costs will be too hard for farmers to bear. Environmental groups also made a stand against the bill. The Coalition for Clean Air objected to a portion of the bill which they feel ties the hands of air quality regulators who could potentially adopt new guidelines to deliver cleaner operations from existing work vehicles. Labor groups, cities and county chambers, and the Chamber of Commerce were all in support of the bill.