Capitol Alert

Road user fee drives California Assembly speaker’s transportation plan

California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, waves to a supporter before taking the stage to speak. Drivers would fund repairs to California’s roads with a new user charge under a proposal she unveiled Wednesday. “California cannot have a strong middle class or a thriving economy if our roadways are congested and people and goods cannot move efficiently,” Atkins said in a speech to the California Transportation Foundation at the Grand Sheraton on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, in Sacramento.
California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, waves to a supporter before taking the stage to speak. Drivers would fund repairs to California’s roads with a new user charge under a proposal she unveiled Wednesday. “California cannot have a strong middle class or a thriving economy if our roadways are congested and people and goods cannot move efficiently,” Atkins said in a speech to the California Transportation Foundation at the Grand Sheraton on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, in Sacramento. rbyer@sacbee.com

Drivers would fund repairs to California’s roads with a new user charge under a proposal unveiled Wednesday by California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego.

“California cannot have a strong middle class or a thriving economy if our roadways are congested and people and goods cannot move efficiently,” Atkins said in a speech to the California Transportation Foundation.

California’s deteriorating highways and bridges have become a perpetual reason for local governments to seek more money. A 2014 report estimated the statewide infrastructure need in the billions of dollars annually, and the state has deferred $59 billion worth of maintenance work on roads. Revenue from the gas excise tax that funds transportation infrastructure has dwindled as cars become more fuel-efficient, in part thanks to state and federal rules intended to improve air quality and combat climate change.

“While it’s great our air is cleaner as cars have become more efficient and less dependent on gasoline, it’s clear we must now move forward to the next generation of transportation funding,” Atkins said in her speech.

An extra $2 billion annually over five years would help fill the gap under Atkins’ plan, with about $1.8 billion of it flowing from a new fee on all drivers. Atkins said she has not yet determined how the fee would be assessed but estimated it would amount to roughly a dollar a week.

“It could take any number of forms,” Atkins told reporters after her speech. “You’ve heard vehicle mileage, you’ve heard vehicle license fee, there’s a way you could attach it to insurance – people pay insurance on a regular basis. Either way, it’s a fee that we have to figure out how best and the easiest way to collect it.”

When Gov. Jerry Brown spotlighted the need for more infrastructure spending in his State of the State speech earlier this year, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers lauded the idea, though Republicans argued that money should be redirected from the high-speed rail project Brown has championed. The governor did not offer any specific proposals.

Republican backing would be necessary for the proposal to break the needed two-thirds vote margin. “In light of recent findings of taxpayer money wasted at Cal Trans and higher than expected revenues, there are funding options for our critical road improvements other than looking deeper into the pockets of Californians,” Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, said in an emailed statement.

Editor’s Note: This post was corrected from print and online versions to put the estimated cost of the user fee at $1 a week instead of $1 a day. Corrected at 10:15 a.m. Feb. 5, 2015.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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