At Gov. Jerry Brown’s urging, California lawmakers have embarked on a mission to develop long-lasting solutions to improve freeways, rebuild bridges, repave rutted roads, fill potholes and expand public transit.
None too soon. For the foreseeable future, Californians will remain dependent on cars to get to work and for weekend getaways. For the economy’s sake, trucks must move efficiently in and out of the parts of Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach, among the nation’s busiest.
Whatever solutions, motorists will end up paying more. That is not bad. People who use roads should pay for them.
California Transportation Secretary Brian P. Kelly told a Senate committee last week that there is a $5.7 billion annual gap between road and highway funding and the need for maintenance and construction. Something must give.
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Any deal will require a two-thirds vote. That means Democrats, who control the Capitol, must work with Republicans, a good thing. No matter people’s income level, or political persuasion, motorists rightly expect safe, well-maintained roads. Voters also would get a chance to weigh in on aspects of the deal.
The Legislative Analyst’s office has enumerated several options:
▪ The state would raise $150 million a year by increasing the gasoline excise tax by a penny.
▪ Adding a dollar to annual vehicle registration fees would generate $33 million.
▪ Doubling weight fees would generate $1 billion.
▪ A 1 percent increase in the vehicle license fee, otherwise known as the car tax, would generate $3 billion-$3.5 billion a year.
Gas taxes take a larger share of low-income workers’ pay than from wealthier people. The excise tax ought to be indexed to inflation, but the poorest among us shouldn’t shoulder a disproportionate share.
When federal, state and local sales taxes at the pump are combined, Californians pay one of the highest gas taxes of any state in the nation, 63.79 cents per gallon.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, California policymakers provide incentives including cash rebates to encourage the purchase of zero- and low-emission vehicles.
People who can afford Teslas pay no gasoline taxes, though they use the roads just as people do who drive old gas guzzling pick-ups. There needs to be a way to assess them. An annual fee could be imposed on electric vehicle owners.
California is experimenting by levying road-maintenance fees based on miles traveled. If that pilot pans out, the state could expand it statewide.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Frazier, D-Oakly, is carrying legislation to expand the use of toll roads. Motorists might be willing to accept small tolls, if they can be collected without traffic delays, and if the money is used to maintain the road from which it is collected.
Frazier also is carrying legislation that would permit local voters to approve sales tax increases for transportation by a 55 percent margin, rather than the current two-thirds majority, a worthy idea.
When federal, state and local sales taxes at the pump are combined, Californians pay one of the highest gas taxes of any state in the nation, 63.79 cents per gallon. On top of that, we pay a dime per gallon because of the cap and trade system, intended to reduce greenhouse gas.
No doubt, existing transportation money could be used more efficiently. Secretary Kelly said annual reports documenting progress will be a condition of additional funding.
We pay for potholes, too. A White House report last year estimated that Los Angeles-Orange County motorists paid $832 a year in added maintenance costs because of bad roads. It’d be far better to use that money for safe and well-maintained highways.