Capitol Alert

Republicans howl as lawmakers jam through deals linked to gas tax, fee increases

Jerry Brown says gas tax vote was above board

Gov. Jerry Brown on April 19, 2017 spoke with reporters about the gas tax increase to fix roads.
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Gov. Jerry Brown on April 19, 2017 spoke with reporters about the gas tax increase to fix roads.

Brushing aside Republican criticism that the legislation broke state law, Assembly Democrats gave final approval Monday to a pair of measures that helped secure the passage of billions in gasoline tax and vehicle fee increases for road repairs.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 132, which contains almost $1 billion in district-specific road and rail projects in the Modesto and Riverside areas. They also signed off on Senate Bill 496, a measure that will reduce the legal liability of design professionals on construction lawsuits. That bill shot directly from the Senate floor to the Assembly floor, with no committee hearing – despite significant opposition.

Republican lawmakers accused Democrats of violating laws prohibiting earmarks, with some suggesting that the two bills represented illegal vote-trading to get the needed votes for SB 1.

“Let’s make no bones about it – what is happening here is the gas tax would not have been passed under any circumstances had these side deals not been made,” Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, said. “If that is not a prime facia definition of a trade, I don’t know what is.”

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democrats have vigorously defended what Brown has termed the side “arrangements” that helped pass Senate Bill 1. Republican allegations of illegal quid pro quos are “preposterous,” Brown said last week.

Senate Bill 1 has idled in the Legislature since it cleared both houses late April 6. With Monday’s action, all of the bills will head to Brown’s desk.

SB 132 contains $977 million, almost all of it for district-specific projects that helped win the votes of state Sen. Richard Roth and Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, Riverside Democrats; Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced; and state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Modesto, the only Republican to vote for the bill.

The bill was tied to SB 496, which dealt with state regulatory boards until wholesale revisions earlier this month. The measure would give legal indemnity to design professionals, such as land surveyors, architects and engineers, including Cannella, a civil engineer. Gray, presenting the bill Monday, said it would “ensure fairness in the construction industry.”

In a memo to lawmakers, though, opponents called SB 496 “the single most inequitable piece of indemnification legislation that has come before the Legislature in recent memory.” They said it would raise legal costs for public agencies, contractors and others involved with construction projects.

Gov. Jerry Brown discusses the "arrangements" he made with California lawmakers to secure passage of a bill that raises the gas tax for road repairs on April 6, 2017.