S. E. Williams
Earlier this month the Transportation and Housing Committee of the California State Senate passed S.B.1 moving the initiative forward in the state’s legislative process.
The bill must also successfully navigate through the Senate Governmental Quality and Government Finance committees before it can make its way to the senate floor for a final vote. A similar bill expired without action during last year’s Transportation Special Session.
SB 1 would raise more than $5 billion for road repairs by increasing the registration fee by $38 for gasoline-burning vehicles and $100 for zero-emission vehicles. It also would make an adjustment to the gas excise tax that would be phased in over three years; increase the price-based gas excise tax by 7.5¢ per-gallon; adjust the diesel excise tax by 20¢ per-gallon; and increase the diesel sales tax by 4 percent. The measure calls for the revenue to be split by the state and local governments.
The proposal also calls for increasing the percentage of the Cap and Trade’s mass transit railing funding from the existing 10 percent to 20 percent as well as the Low Carbon Transit Operations Program allocation from 5 percent to 10 percent. The increases are designed to expedite projects to get cars off the road and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, SB1 includes reforms to expedite project delivery and improve efficiencies through more public/private partnerships and greater use of private engineering services to help the state, regional, and local governments build projects faster and cheaper.
As might be expected, both Democrat and Republican legislators agree that something needs to be done about the state’s crumbling infrastructure; but as is often the case in regards to seeking meaningful solutions to legislative concerns—party ideology may deter legislators’ ability to reach consensus.
In a recent press release, Senator Mike Morrell who represents the 23rd Senate District, expressed his opposition to the measure. He accused legislative Democrats of refusing to make California’s aging infrastructure a spending priority and claimed, “They are laser-focused on raising taxes rather than first considering where reforms and efficiencies can be made with existing resources.” He added, “Californians already pay enough for the services and programs they expect. It is wrong for the state to go back to them for more.”
Morrell also reminded constituents of how the state has diverted as much as one billion dollars per year away from transportation projects; however, some might argue that during the great recession, the state carved billions from its transportation budget out of fiscal necessity and not because transportation was viewed as a low priority.
Democratic Senator Jim Beall who oversees the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee saw SB1 through a somewhat different prism. He called it an urgency bill designed to kick-start billions of dollars in what he described as—long overdue street and highway repairs.
Beall expressed his belief, “Our roads have been neglected to the point where deterioration is accelerating at an alarming rate, making our roads increasingly unsafe. The recent storms underscore the fragility of the transportation infrastructure and just how quickly things can come to a halt,” he said and continued. “48 out of 58 counties have local roads that are rated ‘at risk’ or worse as measured by the Statewide Pavement condition index.”
The Pavement Condition Index (PCI) is an overall rating of road conditions on a scale from 0-100, with zero being a pothole-riddled crumbling street and 100 being a newly surfaced roadway. In the 2016 PCI report, both San Bernardino and Riverside Counties had a PCI of 71—a rating above the state-wide average (when a PCI rating falls between 71 and 86 it is considered good).
Senator Morrell was correct when he said, “California drivers are among the highest taxed in the nation and yet have to navigate some of the worst roads.” In addition, polls conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Institute for Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley also support his premise that constituents are opposed to higher gas taxes. According to the studies, Californians consistently oppose the idea of higher gas taxes and vehicle fees.
Morrell claimed he and fellow Republicans have proposed reforms and the use of existing funds to pay for roads and highways; while Beall claimed, “SB 1 updates California’s transportation funding system and gives us the resources to bring our roads up to 21st century standards.”
SB 1 is now being considered by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. The Voice/ Black Voice News will continue to follow this story.