San Francisco Chronicle Editorial: Jerry Brown’s Road Win

April 24, 2017

April 7, 2017
By The Editorial Board

The behemoth transportation funding bill passed by the Legislature this week conforms to the poet John Godfrey Saxe’s famous aphorism about laws and sausages — that both “cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” The last leg of the plan’s journey through the Sacramento meat grinder only added more of the legislative equivalent of unsavory animal parts.

That said, the bill provides ample and needed sustenance for California’s starved infrastructure, raising $52 billion over 10 years, mostly to shore up roads, bridges and transit systems. Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders deserve credit for corralling the required two-thirds vote to hike gas taxes and vehicle fees, a politically difficult but sensible means of making those who use the roads pay for them.

Critics suggested plenty of other ways to fund the work but none that made much sense. And while transportation funds have been raided in the past, the bill takes steps to ensure that money is repaid and that new revenue is spent appropriately.

Less auspiciously, the bill’s backers made a significant concession to the trucking lobby in exchange for higher diesel taxes, guaranteeing that trucks won’t face additional clean-air requirements until they have been on the road for at least 13 years. This week’s struggle to reach a supermajority brought further concessions, with more than $800 million in pork-barrel spending promised to fence-straddling lawmakers, including an extension of the Altamont Corridor Express rail line into the district of the bill’s lone Republican supporter, state Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres (Stanislaus County). While only a naif would expect legislation of this magnitude to pass without horse-trading, it’s unfortunate that the eleventh-hour changes served only to compound the cost of an already expensive bill.

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