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California Lawmakers Look To Strike Transportation, Affordable Housing Deals (Again)

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

In this photo taken Wednesday Sept. 2, 2015, Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Sr, D-Los Angeles, left, talks with Assembly Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, at the Capitol in Sacramento,Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

In the brief time Democratic lawmakers in California have spent at the state Capitol since the election, they have largely focused on preparing to oppose President-Elect Donald Trump.

But state legislators also have priorities within the state, including two issues that proved intractable last year: transportation and affordable housing.

TRANSPORTATION

The recession, lower gas prices, and more efficient vehicles have led to less state revenue committed to a more than $100 billion backlog of repairs for roads and bridges.

Lawmakers and Governor Jerry Brown have been unable to agree on a response for years. In 2015, the governor called a special session, as the issue remained unresolved, but the session ended without resolution.

Senate leader Kevin de León calls fixing transportation funding a top priority this year.

"We have to secure a deal," De León says. "I want to secure a deal in the next few months."

Democrats are once again proposing to fund repairs and upgrades through a higher gas tax and vehicle fees.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Democrats also still want to add spending for affordable housing, after negotiations with Brown for $400 million in new funding broke down last year.

Lawmakers would not support a plan to also streamline the current, lengthy approval processes new developments face. The governor wanted to allow developers of multi-family dwellings that meet zoning requirements to receive fast track appoval, bypassing local hearings and local governments' abilities to disapprove them.

"I can’t be more clear than to say there was no support last year for the governor’s counter proposal," says Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. "(Brown) seeing that and being a smart politician and wanting to do something about housing, I’m sure there’s room for conversation."

Senate Democrats have introduced a new plan this year, which would fund more affordable housing development by raising real estate transaction fees.

WHERE ARE THE VOTES?

Raising fees and taxes for either a transportation deal or the Senate housing plan would require support from two-thirds majorities of lawmakers in both chambers.

Republican Assembly leader Chad Mayes suggests it's unlikely to come from his party.

"Most of our caucus, if not all of our caucus, doesn’t think we have a revenue problem in the state," Mayes says. "We have a spending problem. In fact, we prioritize spending where it shouldn’t be, and so I don’t think we have to go and look for new revenue."

Republicans have proposed funding road repair and upgrades using existing revenues, including from the state's greenhouse gas emissions funds.

But Democrats could also look to rely solely on their own members to pass the deals, as the party now has supermajorities in both chambers. But, especially in the Assembly, a large bloc of moderate Democrats may balk at raising taxes.

That means while the issues may have higher priority this year among Democratic leaders, the path to legislation isn’t necessarily clearer.

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