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Brown, Democratic Lawmakers Announce Transportation Funding Deal

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Update 6:07 p.m.: Gov. Jerry Brown and California legislative leaders have launched their pitch aimed at selling wavering Democratic lawmakers -- and voters leery of paying more in gas taxes and vehicle fees -- on the $5 billion/year transportation funding deal they announced Wednesday.

"This is like fixing the roof on your house," Brown told reporters at a news conference Wednesday afternoon on the steps of the state Capitol, with several dozen state local elected officials, labor and business leaders, and transportation workers lined up behind him. "If you don't fix the leak, your furniture will be ruined, your rug will be destroyed, the wood will rot. That's what it's all about. So step up, and take care of business!"

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) put it more bluntly: "Let’s be clear: Our roads suck," he said, drawing laughs before calling the deal "responsible and realistic."

Legislative Republicans were quick to slam the deal. Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) said Democrats should instead use existing state revenues that have been diverted away from transportation. 

"Californians know that the ruling party has mismanaged the transportation system here, and they understand that it’s important for them to spend existing revenues that we’ve already got to be able to fund our roads," Mayes said.

Brown acknowledged it'll take some work to pull together the two-thirds supermajorities in each chamber of the Legislature that will be necessary to approve the tax and fee increases. If every Republican lawmaker votes no - and at this point, only GOP Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) has indicated he's open to the proposal - all 27 Senate Democrats and all but one of the 55 Assembly Democrats will need to vote yes.

But early indications suggest the governor and Democratic leaders have a shot. Two leading moderate Democrats, Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Asm. Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), attended the news conference to demonstrate their support, as did the CEO of the powerful California Chamber of Commerce. 

Update 5:10 p.m.: Here's a breakdown of where the money raised by the transportation funding deal announced Wednesday would go, according to the governor's office.

All dollar totals listed below are annual averages across the first 10 years of the deal, although the available funds will be smallest in the first year (fiscal year 2018-19) and grow each year over time.

  • $1.5 billion for local road repairs, including potholes
  • $1.5 billion in state highway repairs, including what the governor's office describes as "smoother pavement"
  • $750 million for local public transportation
  • $400 million in bridge and culvert repairs
  • $300 million to improve trade corridors
  • $250 million to reduce congestion on major commute corridors
  • $200 million in matching funds for "self-help" communities that have raised their own revenues for local transportation projects, such as through a city or county sales tax increase
  • $100 million for infrastructure improvements that promote walking and bicycling

Additionally, the deal calls for the Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2018 that would prohibit spending the new revenues on anything but transportation. The measure would likely go before voters in the June primary, although that detail has apparently not been finalized.

A number of Sacramento area political leaders showed up to support the transportation funding package during a news conference in Sacramento. Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna says the county would see 25 to 30 million additional dollars each year under the proposal, money he says that's badly needed.

"We have a PCI, a pavement condition index. It's a means that other counties and cities use to rate how fair their condition their roadways are in," says Serna. "It's a ranking between zero and 100. Sacramento County is a 58. That's clearly a failing grade in terms of our maintenance."

He also says Watt Avenue, between Roseville Road and Elkhorn Boulevard, is one stretch in dire need of repair.

Serna says he would also support another ballot measure asking county residents if they would support a half cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. Such a tax barely failed to get the two thirds support it needed to pass last November.

Update 3:10 p.m.: The chart below, from Gov. Jerry Brown's Department of Finance, shows how much each vehicle owner would pay for the new vehicle fee included as part of today's deal, which is separate and on top of the current vehicle license fee and vehicle registration fee that Californians pay each year. 

Vehicle Reg Chart
California Department of Finance

Update 1:15 p.m.: Under the deal, much of the roughly $5 billion/year in new revenue over the initial decade would be split between state and local transportation agencies for road repairs and maintenance.

Other pots of money would fund bridge repair and maintenance, public transit, matching funds for "self-help" counties that have adopted local sales tax measures, improved goods movement in trade corridors, and projects that encourage increased biking and walking.

Update 11:35 a.m.: Gov. Jerry Brown's office has announced a press conference  with the governor, Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon at 2pm on the East Steps of the state Capitol.

Sources familiar with the deal tell Capital Public Radio that the terms include:

  • a 12-cent gasoline excise tax increase
  • a 20-cent diesel excise tax increase
  • a four percent diesel sales tax increase
  • a "transportation improvement fee" (similar to the vehicle registration fee that owners already pay the DMV each year), which will assessed at a progressive rate that ranges from $25 to $175 per year based on each vehicle's value
  • a $100/year zero emission vehicle fee starting in 2020

Original: California Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders are set to announce a transportation funding deal this afternoon.

Sources tell Capital Public Radio the package includes gas and diesel tax increases and a new vehicle fee. It also includes a fee for electric vehicles, whose owners do not pay gas taxes. In total, the deal would bring in an average of $5 billion a year over the first 10 years. The new taxes and fees would not sunset.

This will be a very tough vote for legislative Democrats who represent swing districts. It's also not yet clear whether moderate Democrats will support the deal. The governor, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) will now move from negotiating the package to selling it to lawmakers.

All 27 Democratic senators and all but one of the 55 Democratic members of the Assembly will need to vote for the deal for it to reach the two-thirds supermajorities required to pass tax measures through the Legislature.

A vote would likely come on Thursday, April 6th -- the last day before the Legislature begins its spring recess.

As part of the deal, the Legislature would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment in 2018 that would protect the new transportation revenues from being used for non-transportation purposes.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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