Capitol Alert

Fact Check: Gas tax ad stretches danger of losing transportation funding

In the final weeks of the campaign, opponents of Proposition 6 have flooded the television airwaves across California warning of the initiative’s danger. Even Gov. Jerry Brown has filmed a commercial highlighting the “critical repairs” placed at risk if voters approve the measure, which repeals an increase to fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees.

The ads, with their ominous music and violent language, evoke a sense of doom. Among those currently airing is this representative 30-second spot, narrated by a firefighter. It is paid for by a committee mainly funded by construction industry groups and unions.

The script

More than 1,600 bridges and overpasses are structurally deficient and unsafe. But Prop 6 attacks the safety of local roads and bridges. Prop 6 eliminates over $5 billion in existing infrastructure funding; stops repairs to thousands of miles of roads, bridges, overpasses and freeways; and Prop 6 kills local traffic relief projects already underway. It’s why first responders, earthquake experts and local leaders say no on 6. It’s a dangerous road.

Analysis

From its opening line about structurally deficient bridges and overpasses, the anti-Proposition 6 ad sounds the alarm that this initiative would hinder your ability to travel safely around the state. But the extreme depiction of Proposition 6’s effects does not account for how California might adjust after its passage.

What’s really at stake, primarily, is smoother roads.

PoliGRAPH

Brown and mostly Democratic lawmakers last year passed a transportation funding plan that raises state gasoline and diesel taxes and creates a new vehicle license fee based on the value of your car. It is expected to raise an average of more than $5 billion annually over the next decade, which state officials said is desperately needed to address a backlog of road, highway and bridge maintenance estimated at $130 billion.

Those new taxes and fees took effect last fall, and billions of dollars have already been dedicated to thousands of state and local projects, from repaving streets to repairing culverts to improving public transit.

If Proposition 6 passes, the extra revenue dries up. It would delay, or perhaps end, many of the projects that transportation agencies have planned. Long-term goals, such as ensuring at least 98 percent of state highway pavement is in good or fair condition, would be sidetracked.

It does not mean California would suddenly have no money for transportation projects. Annual funding would drop to its previous level, which in recent years was slightly more than $5 billion. That is, nevertheless, a major hit.

The state, which receives half the money from the fee hikes, is planning over the next decade to put about a quarter of its resources toward safety improvement, major damage repair or bridge upgrades. But the biggest category of projects by far, taking up nearly half the budget, is pavement.

While the funding cut from Proposition 6 would require officials to reevaluate the work it could pursue, the Department of Transportation said that safety projects get priority.

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