Sacramento Bee Opinion Editorial: More than half the states are raising taxes to fix roads, like California. Guess how many are blue

October 17, 2017

October 17, 2017
By: Brian P.Kelly

A funny thing happened in the days immediately following the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 1, The Road Repair and Accountability Act.

Four other states passed funding plans dedicated to improving transportation. Those states were Indiana, Montana, Tennessee and South Carolina.

In fact, California and these four states are the latest to join a national trend in which states are acting – where the federal government is not – to improve neighborhood streets, state highways and bridges, and public transit systems through the investment of transportation taxes and user fees.

Since 2013, 26 states with a combined population of 170 million Americans have passed fuel taxes, vehicle fees, or other transportation-related fees to fix roads and bridges. Of these 26 states, 17 are governed by Republicans.

Why is this recent history of both blue and red states acting on transportation funding important? Because it serves as a dose of reality to counter a fairy tale spun by some suggesting California’s action is part of some left-wing conspiracy hatched in “very blue” California. This spin is pure fiction.

The reality is this: States are acting because the federal government has not touched the federal gas tax in nearly 25 years. The federal Highway Trust Fund is nearly insolvent, estimated to be $20 billion in the hole by 2020. In the meantime, roads, bridges, and transit systems around the country are aging, falling into poor condition and increasingly falling short of modern design standards. While Washington sleeps, California has joined 25 other states to act.

Here in the Golden State, we are putting this investment to work now. By the end of October, Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission (CTC) will have advanced more than $5 billion in “fix-it-first” projects for earlier completion because of SB 1 funding.

Caltrans is accelerating the delivery of 60 bridge projects along trade corridors in Northern, Central and Southern California. Cities and counties are lining up hundreds of neighborhood street projects they will be investing SB 1 funds into to improve their communities.

By spring of 2018, the CTC and the California State Transportation Agency will announce grants for competitive programs that will fund improvements to California’s trade corridors, to the state’s most congested regional corridors and to new, transformative public transit projects. These projects, and their progress toward completion, are available for public review at rebuildingca.ca.gov.

These investments will also keep Californians working. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, every $1 billion in highway and transit investments supports about 13,000 jobs per year. SB 1 proposes to invest more than $5 billion per year in transit, highway, bridge and road improvements. This sustained investment over the course of the next decade and beyond will support hundreds of thousands of jobs in California.

Of course, there are critics of SB 1 who are now proposing ballot measures to repeal this funding plan. Their primary criticism appears to be that the Legislature relied on gasoline, diesel and vehicle taxes to fund transportation.

They fail to tell the public that gasoline and diesel taxes are constitutionally dedicated to transportation or that the SB 1 funding package includes a constitutional amendment (ACA 5) to complete that constitutional protection for other transportation-related user fees.

What alternative funding sources do the repeal proponents offer in their measures?

None at all. Their measures offer nothing to keep California on the move. This do-nothing crowd’s message appears to be “don’t fix California’s transportation system.” Fortunately, recently released polling suggests Californians reject this do-nothing approach.

Democratic and Republican leaders around the country have endorsed transportation taxes and user fees for transportation purposes. In fact, when former President Ronald Reagan signed federal legislation in 1983 to raise the national gas tax, he said, “When we first built our highways, we paid for them with a gas tax, a highway user fee that charged those of us who benefited most from the system. It was a fair concept then, and it is today.”

His words were right then, and they are right today.

Like measures passed in 25 other states, The Road Repair and Accountability Act is premised on transportation user fees dedicated to transportation purposes – a familiar, simple and common-sense approach to rebuild California.

Brian P. Kelly is secretary of the California State Transportation Agency.

 

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