Calif. Sen. Jim Beall, author of the $3 billion housing bond bill.
California Sen. Jim Beall said his bill’s committee passage is a first step toward fixing the state’s badly maintained roads.

PHOENIX - Legislation that would raise gasoline and other taxes to fund California transportation infrastructure is a step closer to passage after a committee vote Tuesday, in a sign of life for transportation after the legislature failed to pass a funding bill last session.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, passed through the California Senate Transportation Committee by an 8-3 vote Tuesday. The bill, which is very similar to legislation that almost passed last year before the clock ran out on the legislative session, would increase the per-gallon gas tax by 12 cents in phases over three years along with hiking the diesel excise tax and imposing a fee on zero emission vehicles in an effort to close California's estimated $6 billion annual unfunded road maintenance gap. The bill would raise an estimated more than $5 billion annually.

Many local governments and groups representing them have thrown their weight behind the bill, which is the most prominent of the funding solutions being floated in Sacramento. Gov. Jerry Brown has his own suggestions for revenue that he has repeatedly introduced in his proposed budgets. It would index the gas tax to inflation and impose a new $65 annual fee on all vehicles among other things, raising an estimated $4.3 billion.

"It's a good sign things are moving in the right direction and California legislators recognize the importance of passing a package of bills that provide a long-term, stable and accountable source of funding for transportation infrastructure in early 2017," the Fix Our Roads Coalition said in a statement. The coalition is an alliance of local government groups, businesses, and other stakeholders who have banded together to push for a sustainable transportation funding package.

"SB 1 is part of that package along with forthcoming constitutional protections to make sure the new revenues are used for transportation purposes only," the coalition said.

Beall, who is a past chair of the committee, said the vote was a first step and underscored the poor condition of the state's roadways.

"Our roads have been neglected to the point where deterioration is accelerating at an alarming rate, making our roads increasingly unsafe," said Beall. "The recent storms underscore the fragility of the transportation infrastructure and just how quickly things can come to a halt. Forty-five out of 58 counties have local roads that are rated 'at risk' or worse as measure by the statewide pavement condition index."

Some Republicans have continued to oppose virtually any tax increases, pointing out that Californians already pay some the highest gas taxes in the nation and urging that a more comprehensive financial reform be undertaken to handle the transportation issue. Democrats own a legislative supermajority, however. There has also been tension with the Trump administration over California's opposition to the president's executive order on immigration, with Trump suggesting that federal funds could be withheld as a result. Trump nonetheless on Tuesday approved disaster assistance for damage California infrastructure suffered in recent storms.

SB 1 is next scheduled to be reviewed by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, but no date is set. The coalition has said it hopes to see legislation passed by April.

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