September 8, 2015
To rebuild California’s crumbling roads, Gov. Jerry Brown is suggesting that California drivers should pay an additional $65 a year and an additional 6 cents per gallon at the pump (11 cents if you use diesel). That’s a big chunk for California drivers, and it still might not be enough.
Brown’s suggested plan would require a big sacrifice from California’s drivers, who already enjoy some of the highest gas prices in the nation and are notorious for hating vehicle user fees. (See: the role that former Gov. Gray Davis’ decision to raise the vehicle license fee played in his own political demise.)
The governor is also looking at an uphill battle to earn votes from any of the state legislature’s Republicans, who don’t want any new taxes.
Plus, even with the new fee and additional gas taxes, the plan will only raise just over half of the money that the state needs to fix all of our deteriorating infrastructure.
The Fix Our Roads coalition (a group of business, city, and county officials) estimates that California has a $6 billion annual funding need; Brown’s plan will only deliver $3.6 billion.
Still, plenty of smart organizations like the League of California Cities and the Bay Area Council have come out in support of the plan for good reason.
It may not be all we need in California, but it may be the best we can do.
The new taxes and fees will require two-thirds approval from the state Legislature, and it’s not going to be easy to get.
The plan includes reforming Caltrans’ hiring procedures and other ideas designed to get Republican support. Meanwhile some in the Democratic caucus are grumbling that the money is less than they wanted. Brown’s going to have to convince them that this is in California’s best interest — and then convince the voters.
It is definitely in the best interest of Californians to make these investments.
Already, drivers pay a hidden vehicle tax of $762 per year, just because the highways and roads are in such disrepair. A $65 fee would feel painful because it’s more obvious, but in the long run, it could actually save California drivers money.
Improving the highways would be good for our economy as well. Our ability to move goods depends on the state of our transit corridors, and right now they’re in sorry shape.
Brown’s plan isn’t going to please everyone, but there’s no transportation funding plan that will.
The purpose of this summer’s special session was to create a compromise. It’s not perfect, but it beats the inertia that has been the default approach for far too long.