Cities, counties applaud $52 billion California transportation bill

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PHOENIX - California and its local governments are set to get a major infusion of transportation money after state lawmakers passed a $52 billion funding package.

The long-awaited Senate Bill 1 passed both chambers of the Legislature Thursday evening. The Senate approved the bill 27-11 with two lawmakers not voting, while the Assembly passed the measure 54-26, in both cases mustering the bare two-thirds supermajorities needed for tax increases.

Every Republican but one in the Senate opposed the bill to the very end in both chambers, criticizing its tax increases, but Democrats had the muscle and the supermajorities they needed to send the bill to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

The measure is expected to provide about $5.2 billion annually through the next 10 years, with the money split evenly between the state and local governments.

The bulk of the new revenue will come from a 12-cent-per-gallon increase in the gasoline excise tax with an index for inflation, as well as from a new “transportation improvement fee” charged on the basis of vehicle value. The measure also raises about $900 million annually with increases to diesel taxes.

The gas and diesel tax increases will be effective Nov. 1, with some of the other measures being phased in at later dates.

The legislature also approved, largely along the same partisan lines, a new constitutional measure preventing the legislature from appropriating the new transportation revenues for other purposes.

Passage of the measure represents the end of a long road that had its share of detours. Brown called a special legislative session on transportation in 2015, and it adjourned late last year without passing a bill. A bill nearly did pass in the regular legislative session last year, but failed to gather enough support in time for a vote before the session’s close. State and local government groups applauded the passage of the funding bill, which a state Department of Transportation analysis showed would invest billions in major metro areas over the next 10 years.

“We want to thank legislators for doing the right thing and making the important decisions they were elected to make,” the Fix Our Roads Coalition said in a statement. The group is a coalition of local government, business, labor, transit and transportation advocates.

“This historic vote will help reverse decades of decline in California’s transportation system,” said a statement from Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, an employer-oriented advocacy group.

California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, hailed the bill’s passage and suggested that federal lawmakers follow California’s template as they look to move forward on President Donald Trump’s ambitious infrastructure agenda.

“These investments will create good-paying jobs, improve traffic safety and expand public transit access in communities across the state,” de León said. “Once again, California stands in stark contrast with Washington, D.C. Senate Bill 1 should serve as a model of responsible governance for Congress and the Trump administration as they consider new infrastructure spending. Americans cannot afford a trillion dollar tax boondoggle.”

Republicans blasted the measure as an irresponsible tax hike.

“It is deeply disappointing that legislative Democrats chose to punish Californians with tax increases after neglecting our roads for years, said Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield. “This out of touch plan will particularly hurt Californians struggling to make ends meet and give us all less than we deserve.”

Brown is expected to sign the new measures, for which he spent the past several days campaigning around the state.

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