Vote nears for California gas tax, fee hike for road repairs

Lauren Perry
April 18, 2017

Democratic legislative leaders were hopeful but making no promises of success Thursday as lawmakers prepared to vote on a $5-billion-a-year boost in California's gas and vehicle taxes to pay for major road repairs. After fierce wrangling on the Assembly floor, the bill ultimately cleared with 54 votes, the bare minimum it needed to pass.

Gov. Jerry Brown said the plan would cost most drivers less than $10 per month and would be offset by reduced vehicle-repair expenses.

The bill raises about $52 billion over ten years, about $5 billion in its first year. If passed by the legislature and signed into law, California will become the highest gas tax state in the country, charging 30 cents per gallon overall.

And he defended the deals he cut to get the measure through: "Sometimes these bills that take all these different arrangements and compromises help the very people that we came here to serve".

The bill, SB1, is the first major legislation that must comply with an initiative approved previous year by voters that requires lawmakers to publish legislation for 72 hours before voting on it. "For me, this is a wise plan that's a modest plan". In short, it has become more hard to rely on the federal government, local and regional transportation agencies have become less reliant on the State, the gas tax has not been raised in years, and vehicles have become more fuel efficient, resulting in more miles traveled by more cars without the incremental increase in funding.

"This institution is sick", said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City. While he would not go on camera to state the reason behind his opposition, there is word Glazer wants a provision forbidding future strikes by BART workers.

Separately, if SB 1 moves forward, there will also be a vote on a constitutional amendment that would protect transportation funding from being diverted for other purposes (think Al Gore's "lockbox").

"I'd love to have a proposal that Democrats and Republicans are both on", he said. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) spoke of the hardships the tax and fee increases will impose on poor and middle-class Californians.

Lawmakers began crafting a separate measure outlining spending for individual legislative districts, Senate Bill 132. The increase is meant to close a multi-billion dollar backlog of fix projects.

Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres was the only Republican to support the tax hike. So the transportation funding measure can't be changed in order for there to be a vote Thursday. Brown and De León agreed to provide $500 million for projects in Cannella's district, including the extension of a commuter rail line from the Bay Area to Merced. "So the idea of putting this on the consumers is really an outrage".

Critics, including Republicans and agricultural industry groups, bemoaned the sharp fuel tax increases and the speed with which lawmakers advanced the bill through the Legislature. Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes of Corona said she is undecided.

Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat who has worked for years on the plan, said the restriction on pollution mandates is necessary to have a "fair balance" for truckers who will be heavily taxed. "Transportation is a basic need to live and work and raise a family".

“The other parts of the state take for themselves, and leave us only what is left over the same way they drive through on Highway 99 leaving nothing but their exhaust behind. Nobody gets everything they want in a political compromise, and in this case environmentalists would get more dollars for public transit, bike lanes and other infrastructure investments to help get people out of cars. It's wrong. It's unfair.

Other reports by VgToday

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