PHOENIX — Two California state lawmakers released a proposal they say would generate $7.4 billion annually for transportation, with $2.5 billion going directly to cities and counties.
The package, introduced by Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat, and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, would raise the new revenues with a combination of tax increases and fees designed to tackle California's significantly underfunded transportation system. In a June 2016 proclamation convening an ongoing legislative special session, Gov. Jerry Brown cited $5.7 billion of annual unfunded road infrastructure repair requirements. Lawmakers have held hearings and introduced some legislation during that session, but taken little concrete action.
"This proposal represents, for the first time, a unified effort by the Assembly and Senate Democratic Caucuses to address the $78 billion unmet funding need for local streets and roads and $56 billion backlog to the state's transportation infrastructure," the League of California Cities said in a release.
Among the new revenues would be a 17 cent per gallon increase to the gasoline excise tax, a 30 cent per gallon increase to the diesel excise tax, and a zero emission vehicle registration fee of $165 per year starting in the second year. The bill also contains a provision that would index all fees and taxes, including current gas taxes, for inflation every three years.
It contains some measures that Republicans opposing previous Democratic efforts to increase taxes have asked for in the past, including steps designed to improve accountability in spending and a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the use of transportation revenues for non-transportation spending.
But Sen. John Moorlach, R-Orange County, remained critical of the proposal and said lawmakers shouldn't be looking to further tax Californians in an effort to throw money at the problem.
"The state is diagnosing what ails it, and their response is 'we need more money,'" Moorlach told The Bond Buyer. "It's just crazy."
Moorlach said that Californians are already among the most taxed Americans, and pointed the finger mainly at the California Department of Transportation, which he called "bloated and inefficient."
"We need to communicate that we are being efficient with our money," Moorlach said. "I'm just embarrassed for my colleagues that they would dare say we need to raise taxes."
While local groups including the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties have said repeatedly that the legislature needs to take action to responsibly fund the state's infrastructure, Moorlach expressed doubt that lawmakers would hold a vote on this proposal or any other before the Aug. 31 legislative deadline. While the special session can remain active after the close of the regular session, Moorlach said it was more likely that votes on a transportation measure would get pushed until next year.
A report issued this week by The Road Information Program found that 37% of California's major roads are in poor condition.