Capitol Alert

Transportation deal taking shape between Jerry Brown, Democratic leaders

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders are putting the final touches on legislation to raise several billion dollars for road maintenance and repairs, yet with no assurance that the measure will pass by a self-imposed April 6 deadline.

A package could become public as early as next week, Brian Kelly, Brown’s transportation secretary, said Monday in Los Angeles, during one of several rallies organized by supporters around the state in recent days. “We’re very close,” he said.

Advocates for a road-funding package say California has fallen tens of billions of dollars behind in paying for road upkeep, goods movement and public transit. Inflation, low gas prices and increases in vehicle fuel efficiency have eroded the purchasing power of the state’s gas tax, they say, and this winter’s heavy rains have caused more than $700 million in damage alone.

“It’s only going to get worse if we don’t address it now,” Orville Thomas of the labor-business California Alliance for Jobs said Friday at a Fresno press conference by backers.

More than two years of hearings, private talks and supporters’ advocacy have failed to produce a package. The Legislature’s Republican caucuses object to raising fuel taxes and fees. Democrats achieved two-thirds super-majorities last fall, allowing them to increase taxes on their own, but such votes pose risks for lawmakers from swing districts.

“The Legislature’s engaged at the detail level, and then pretty soon we’ve got to get to the political level, to get people to bite that bullet,” Brown said in Washington, D.C. this week.

The total estimated revenue of any package, as well as its funding mix, remains unclear.

State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, who lead the Legislature’s transportation panels, put forward separate bills that would generate an estimated $6 billion annually. Brown’s proposal would raise an estimated $4.2 billion annually.

The bills by Frazier and Beall lean more heavily on higher fuel taxes. Brown’s proposal includes smaller fuel tax increases, but raises more money from a $65 “road improvement charge” – almost $30 more than a $38 registration fee increase in Assembly Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1.

Two funding sources increasingly seem to be off the table, according to multiple people familiar with the talks.

The two bills as well as Brown’s January proposal included several hundred million dollars for public transit from the state’s cap-and-trade program designed to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases. Yet a final package is unlikely to include the money. Last month’s auction of pollution credits did poorly, highlighting the legal uncertainty surrounding the program’s future.

Beall and Frazier’s bills, meanwhile, would re-direct $500 million generated by truck weight fees to the state highway account, and away from helping to pay debt service on voter-approved transportation borrowing. The state general fund would have to cover that cost, a shift the Brown administration has objected to.

Absent that revenue, the bills would generate about $5 billion annually.

HOW MUCH WOULD YOUR COSTS INCREASE?

Enter the number of miles you drive annually and your vehicle’s mpg to see how much you would pay per month under AB 1, one of the road-funding proposals.

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