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California Lawmakers Press Ahead on Transportation

PHOENIX — California lawmakers are getting closer to finding more money for the state's infrastructure with less than two weeks left in the regular legislative session, though deep divides remain.

The California Assembly and Senate have been called into extraordinary session to find revenue for transportation infrastructure, and the special session is not bound to the same deadlines as the Sept. 11 end of the regular session. Still, the legislators want to get it done in the next week, sources said.

"The goal is to get it done in the regular session," said Kiana Buss, a legislative representative in the area of housing, land use and transportation for the California State Association of Counties. "What is positive is we have agreement among a broad group of stakeholders."

The bill that most closely mirror's CSAC's advocacy is SBX1-1, sponsored by Sen. Jim Beall, a Democrat from San Jose who chairs the special session's transportation panel.

The committee passed Beall's bill out of its committee with some amendments Tuesday, and is now headed back to the Senate's Appropriations Committee for further consideration. That bill would rely on new car registration fees and new taxes to raise billions in revenue, including an increase of 12 cents per gallon to the gas tax Californians pay at the pump.

Tax increases require two-thirds approval of both chambers of the legislature in order to reach the governor's desk for signature.

Gov. Jerry Brown in June called the special session on transportation funding in a proclamation that cited $5.7 billion of annual unfunded road infrastructure repair requirements. Beall's bill would bring in an estimated $4.5 billion a year.

But the bill faces significant opposition from Republicans, particularly Orange County Sen. John Moorlach.

At least a few Republican votes would be needed to achieve the two-thirds supermajority.

Moorlach has advocated a more austerity-based approach beginning with reform of the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and previously offered a bill that would have required the agencies to be doing 50% of its work with private architectural and engineering firms by 2023. Beall's committee shot that bill down last month.

On Wednesday Moorlach was circulating a petition against Beall's bill via email, arguing that Californians already pay the 4th-highest per-gallon gas taxes in the nation and citing a recent Reason Foundation study that named California roads the 45th worst in the nation.

"Legislators want $4.5 billion in higher taxes and fees to 'fix' what the original taxes and fees were supposed to accomplish," Moorlach's email said.

Buss said that the cost of deferred maintenance on California's aging infrastructure rises sharply with time, making it expensive to wait any longer to begin addressing it.

"This issue isn't going away," she said. "The longer we wait, the harder it's going to be to take care of."

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