PHOENIX — A high-profile San Francisco Bay Area business advocate says a sales tax should be used to help meet California's massive unfunded transportation needs.
Bay Area Council president and chief executive officer Jim Wunderman on Wednesday called for reauthorizing a quarter-cent sales tax the state's voters approved in 2012, and which is set to expire in 2016, and dedicating that money for transportation.
Speaking during a roundtable forum convened in the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek during the California legislature's special session on transportation, Wunderman said the proposal would generate an estimated $1.5 billion annually to help address what the state's department of transportation has estimated to be $5.7 billion of annual unfunded road infrastructure repair requirements.
The roundtable was hosted by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, an Oakley Democrat who is chair of the Assembly's transportation committee in the special session.
Wunderman's proposal would reauthorize indefinitely the sales tax authorized by voters under Proposition 30 in 2012. The revenue helped the state balance its budget, though Proposition 30, which also included a temporary income tax hike on high earners, was pitched to voters as a way to avoid cuts in education assistance that would have been otherwise needed to balance the budget.
The Bay Area Council is a public policy advocacy organization for businesses in the nine-county Bay Area.
"It's time for immediate and drastic action from every level of government in California," said Wunderman, who earlier in the day joined Gov. Jerry Brown and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D- San Diego, at a press conference in Oakland to call for increased investment in the state's transportation infrastructure. "We need more money for transportation, we need to be more creative about what projects and programs we fund, and we need to be a lot more efficient at turning the money into the projects."
Wunderman's call came just hours after the state Senate's transportation committee had considered several bills aimed at raising revenue, including one that would increase California's gas tax. The panel advanced the gas tax proposal.
"In the special session, you've got nearly every appropriate revenue source on the table: gas tax, diesel tax, vehicle registration, vehicle license fee, truck weight fees, cap and trade auction revenues, Caltrans efficiencies-but a sales tax may be the most politically viable," Wunderman said. "The need is so big-both to restore the existing system, and to improve and expand it-that more than one solution will be needed. We are calling on the legislature to put them all together and get to a serious amount of money that is going to make a significant difference for Californians."
Wunderman added that the legislature must make other changes besides finding additional tax revenue, including guaranteeing that new transportation money can never be diverted to non-transportation uses and giving the California Department of Transportation more flexibility to explore cost-cutting project delivery methods such as public-private partnerships.