Capitol Alert

California road tax increases stagger to Senate floor as deadline looms

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday made a rare appearance before a pair of legislative committees, calling on lawmakers to approve a $5.2 billion road-funding package that rests heavily on higher fuel taxes and a new vehicle fee on motorists.

But Senate Bill 1’s path to approval appeared more challenging than ever, three days before a self-imposed deadline to pass the measure before lawmakers leave town for spring recess.

The bill would raise $52 billion over 10 years by increasing the base gas excise tax by 12 cents, creating a transportation improvement fee linked to vehicle value, and raising diesel excise and sales taxes. Owners of electric vehicles would pay a $100 fee by 2020, and the state would repay a $706 million transportation loan dating from the dot-com bust in the early 2000s.

A $50 billion repair and maintenance backlog for state and local roads, bridges and culverts will continue to grow by billions of dollars unless lawmakers act, Brown told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. A floor vote is scheduled Thursday.

“I know there’s a political concern because people don’t like gas taxes,” he said. “I got that. But what do you do? What do you guys come here for? We’ve got a real problem.”

Democrats hold legislative supermajorities that would allow them to reach the two-thirds vote required for tax increases without GOP support. Democratic leaders reportedly remained several votes short Monday, particularly in the Assembly, as Republicans step up criticism of the proposal.

Representatives of environmental justice groups and agricultural organizations, meanwhile, testified against the bill Monday.

Critics said the diesel tax increase would hurt farmers, as would truck rules in the bill. And environmental justice groups objected to a provision of the measure to ease existing air-quality rules on diesel trucks.

“Just put us in a room and we could work it out,” said Erica Martinez of Earthjustice, who called for lawmakers to put aside Thursday’s vote deadline and continue negotiations on the bill.

State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, the author of SB 1, dismissed the concerns, and said the measure would improve air quality. Shawn Yadon, CEO of the California Trucking Association, which supports SB 1, said the provision “is a very reasonable policy.”

Brown told the committee the taxes should be approved now – when they have a governor willing to sign them. “All the guys running for governor, all want to be president, so they’re not going to want to raise taxes,” he said. “You got a guy (Brown) who’s going nowhere. I have no future. I only have a past.”

How much would your costs increase?

Enter the number of miles you drive annually, your vehicle’s mpg and value to see how much you would pay per month, on average, under the road-funding package at full implementation, compared to current law estimates. Note: Applies to gas-powered vehicles. Use numbers only.