Capitol Alert

Brown’s transportation plan includes tax hike, cap-and-trade dollars

Caltrans workers fill a pothole on the Capitol City Freeway with a cold asphalt patch, December 27, 2007.
Caltrans workers fill a pothole on the Capitol City Freeway with a cold asphalt patch, December 27, 2007. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

Judging by the initial reaction, Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to pay for road repairs with a mix of taxes, fees and cap-and-trade dollars did little to break a legislative impasse over transportation funding.

Brown gave the plan to Republicans on Thursday, but despite incorporating some of their proposals, the plan appeared unlikely to peel off Republican votes that would be required to boost taxes.

The minority party has vowed to reject tax increases given California’s brimming budget, and party leaders in the Senate and the Assembly released statements on Thursday saying Brown’s call for increased taxes and a road user fee made his plan unsupportable.

“Californians have paid enough,” Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, said in a statement. “Funds exist to fix our roads. It’s up to the majority party to recognize this.”

The draft proposal from Brown’s office, shared by a group supportive of more funding that was briefed by the Governor’s Office, involves ideas that have been pushed by both Democrats and by Republicans, who agree on the need for more funding but not on where to get it. Brown called for more funding in his January state of the state address and has convened a special legislative transportation session but deflected questions about specifics.

“The administration’s proposal was put forth after engaging with Democrats, Republicans and lots of people who are concerned about adequate funding for our crumbling roads and highways,” Brown spokesman Gareth Lacy said in a statement. “It includes sensible reforms and sufficient revenue to improve our roads, bridges, public transit and trade corridors – all vital to boosting quality-of-life and economic competitiveness.”

The plan would generate $3.6 billion annually while offering the type of regulatory relief Republicans want. That total falls billions short of the $6 billion annually sought by the Fix Our Roads coalition that includes groups representing businesses, cities and counties.

An estimated $1 billion a year in state money would come from an 11-cent excise tax on diesel and an increase in the gasoline tax by indexing it to inflation. Another $2 billion would flow from a $65-per-vehicle highway user fee.

But other funding sources in Brown’s plan could appeal to them: $500 million annually from California’s cap-and-trade system of selling emissions permits, which Republicans have said should go to infrastructure repair. Another $100 million would come from new “efficiencies” in the state transportation agency Caltrans, which Republicans have criticized as bloated and overstaffed.

Brown’s plan also calls for regular reporting on the status of state highways and exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act for infrastructure repairs.

Various transportation programs would have their loans repaid more quickly via a $879 million transfer from the rainy-day fund enacted last November through Proposition 2.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert