PHOENIX – California’s local governments have some idea of how much money they can expect as part of a new $52 billion transportation funding measure and are making plans to deploy it.

Their efforts to prepare for funding from Senate Bill one come as activists opposed to the tax increases in the new law, which cleared the Legislature with two-thirds supermajorities, try to fight back.

The full impact of SB1, which is expected to generate about $5.2 billion annually over the next decade, won’t benefit cities and counties right away. The measure raises the money through a variety of new and increased taxes and fees, some of which are phased in at later dates.

Work on a Los Angeles transit project earlier this year.
Work on a Los Angeles transit project earlier this year. LA Metro

The new revenue the bill generates will start being collected in November, and local governments are beginning to prioritize their transportation needs and deciding how they can spend the new revenue. The state produced a list estimating how much each county could expect to receive on average over the next ten years, though those numbers are only estimates and early collections will be less because not all the taxes and fees will kick in right away.

Natalie Brill, chief of debt management at the City of Los Angeles, said that $23.4 million of the new revenue has been incorporated into the Mayor’s proposed 2017/2018 budget under the special gas tax improvement fund, which is money earmarked for transportation. The proposed budget contains a footnote detailing how those funds would be used, with $6 million going to traffic signal installation and the remainder being used on street reconstruction and safety improvements. Brill said that in order for the city to be able to bond against the new revenue, the law would have needed to include specific bonding authority. Brill said that the new funds are distinct from the city’s general fund, as required by the new transportation law.

“We stick the revenue there, and then we appropriate it,” she said.

Alex Bell, program manager at the Land Use and Environment Group at the County of San Diego’s Department of Public Works, said that the county has been looking at the possibility of new revenue for some time.

“Our county has actually been looking at this issue since early this year,” Bell said. “The Board of Supervisors initially took up an item on Feb. 14, prior to the new state legislation, outlining the situation for the roads in the unincorporated county and directing Public Works to return within 90 days with a funding plan to increase the pavement condition index of our nearly 4,000 lane miles of roads.”

That return meeting is scheduled for May 2, Bell said.

Most of the department’s proposal addresses how the Public Works department could use the funding, Bell said. “However, since we do not have policy direction from our Board on how to utilize the expected new funding, we cannot commit to a specific approach or list of projects at this time.”

Several county leaders shared some thoughts on how the money could benefit them with the California State Association of Counties, which published them in a weekly bulletin earlier this month.

“New state transportation funding will improve traffic safety and mobility for Santa Barbara County,” Santa Barbara County public works director Scott McGolpin told CSAC. “This funding will bolster all three areas of transportation maintenance in the county: corrective maintenance, like repairing potholes and improving ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) access; preservation work to keep roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks in good condition; and replacement of bridges, drainage systems, and antiquated traffic devices.”

The Ventura County Public Works Agency will use a significant portion of the increase in transportation funding annually (about $6 to 7 million) to complete pavement resurfacing projects to maintain the unincorporated pavement condition index in the mid 70’s, Ventura County public works director Jeff Pratt said in the bulletin. “Some funding will also be used for local bridge maintenance. The remainder (about $3M) will be used as local match for grant applications and to fund (over a period of years) improvement projects prioritized and improved by the Board of Supervisors in the County’s Capital Improvement Program. These include safety and other improvements to intersections.”

Rhetorical resistance to SB 1 continues, driven in large part by its 12-cent-per-gallon increase in the gasoline excise tax, with an index for inflation.

The bill passed on the strength of Democratic supermajorities in both the Assembly and Senate.

Only one Republican, Senator Anthony Cannella of Ceres, voted for the bill with the expectation that his district will benefit directly from commuter rail and freeway expansions.

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Orange County, has been an outspoken critic of the gas tax increase and earlier this month urged Gov. Jerry Brown to veto SB1.

“I believe our constituents and the people of California deserve better than what this massive tax bill offers,” Moorlach wrote, adding that he has heard an “outcry” from constituents concerned about the affordability of continuing to live in California.

Brown worked closely with Democratic leaders in the Legislature to arrive at the final terms of SB 1, and is unlikely to veto his own handiwork.

Former San Diego councilman Carl DeMaio, who is now a radio talk show host and also works for the political action committee Reform California, is leading a drive to recall Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, labeling him “the deciding vote” in favor of the gas tax.

“Within two weeks we plan to hit the streets in his Orange County district to collect the signatures we need to recall him from office and in doing so tee-up the reversal of the car and gas tax hike,” DeMaio said in an emailed appeal for volunteers.

Newman, who was elected to his first term in November, has dismissed the effort as partisan politics played by out of town special interests. A recall election would be costly and divisive, Newman said in a statement.

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