Capitol Alert

Gas-tax increase to pay for road repair clears California Legislature

The state Legislature on Thursday passed a sweeping $52 billion transportation plan that will raise California gas taxes after leaders struck deals with wavering lawmakers to fund road projects in their districts.

The state Senate voted 27-11 and the state Assembly voted 54-26 – the bare minimum two-thirds margins required for a tax increase. The votes took place shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown met with Senate Democrats behind closed doors during a recess from the floor session.

The legislation will raise the money to pay for the plan over 10 years. It raises the base gasoline excise tax by 12 cents, creates a transportation improvement fee based on the value of a vehicle and raises diesel excise and sales taxes.

“This bill will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs for poor people who need work and it will stimulate the economy,” said Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who introduced Senate Bill 1. “For me, this is a wise plan that’s a modest plan.”

Republican lawmakers criticized the deal for putting a burden on ordinary Californians to pick up the bill for the Legislature’s failure to prioritize spending on roads without raising taxes.

“This institution is sick,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City. “You have to be drunk to support this measure tonight – drunk on the power that is ruining this institution, and that is making it harder and harder to live in this state.”

Brown and Democratic legislative leaders estimate that SB 1’s higher fuel taxes and fees would increase costs for the average motorist by about $10 a month.

They set Thursday as a self-imposed deadline to pass what would be the largest road deal in California in more than a quarter century, widely cast as the first true test of Democrats’ ability to use a two-thirds majority in both houses they won in the November election.

“I’m energized and doing everything I can to make sure California climbs out of this big hole,” Brown told reporters outside the Capitol early in the day.

But by afternoon, it remained uncertain whether Democrats would be able to rally votes to pass the bill. They were having particular difficulty with members representing districts that can shift parties depending on the election because the measure contains a gas tax increase.

Lawmakers began crafting a separate measure outlining spending for individual legislative districts, Senate Bill 132. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León said the projects would have been funded anyway, but the bill moves them up in the “queue.”

“The projects are transportation-worthy, no question about that, in an area that is highly congested with bad air quality and badly needed infrastructure repair,” he said.

Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Modesto, was the only Republican to vote for the deal. The measure provides $500 million in funding to Cannella’s district. It allocates $400 million for an extension of a Bay Area commuter rail line, the Altamont Corridor Express, to Ceres and Merced and a $100 million parkway project between the University of California, Merced campus and Highway 99.

“For over two years, I have fought for real solutions to California’s transportation problems,” Cannella said in a statement. “This state cannot continue to just put asphalt band aids on potholes when what we really need is major road and rail surgery to keep Californians and their economy moving. In addition, this will be transformative for commerce and commuter travel throughout the Central Valley.”

The bill also earmarks $427 million for the Riverside County Transportation Efficiency Corridor in Democratic Sen. Richard Roth’s Riverside County district. The corridor overlaps with the Assembly District represented by Sabrina Cervantes, a Democrat who also lives in Riverside.

All three members represent swing districts.

Cervantes’ office would not comment on whether the appropriation was part of a deal with the assemblywoman.

Several Republicans repeated complaints that Democrats have squandered transportation funding over the years, deferring necessary maintenance and leading to the decline of the state’s infrastructure.

“Please think about what you’re doing,” said Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula. “Are you really going to increase taxes on the families that struggle in this state every single day? SB 1 in its present form is not the answer. It’s wrong. It’s unfair. It’s predatory to the poor and working class. It’s regressive.”

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

How much will 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.

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