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Could California Use Existing Money For Road Repairs?


Why not use current money to pay for California’s crumbling roads and bridges?

Republican state lawmakers say that approach would be far better than the controversial gas tax hike proposed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and top state Democrats.

Gas tax revenue has historically funded road repairs in the state, but has declined as cars have become more fuel efficient. That, in turn, has left California with a huge backlog of road repairs.

Speaking outside the state Capitol on Wednesday, Republican State Assembly Leader Chad Mayes said Sacramento has a history of diverting transportation dollars. He cited the $1.1 billion in truck weight fees, some of which previously funded road repairs, but was diverted to pay off debt for new transportation projects.  

“That’s the problem today,” Mayes said. “We have enough money to properly fund our transportation. But they’ve taken that money and spent it on a whole bunch of other projects that these politicians in Sacramento have wanted to.”

Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield said the state GOP proposal, AB 496, would raise enough money to repair roads without requiring any tax increases. It would draw on existing revenue including the $3 billion the state collects annually in vehicle sales tax revenue, money that now goes to the general fund.

Deep cuts?

Taking that money, however, would lead to deep cuts in social services, said State Transportation Agency Director Brian Kelly.

“It would impact the general fund by about $3 billion,” Kelly said. “And, so, where are you going to take it from? Are we going to shut down the UCs? Are we going to take it out of education. Are we going to stop providing health care for folks. I mean, you’ve got to make those kind of decisions.”

The Brown Administration’s tax proposal would raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon, the diesel tax by 16 cents per gallon and impose a new fee based on the value of a driver’s vehicle. It would also place a $100 charge on emission-free vehicles.

LAO's recommendation

In a February report, the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended increasing taxes and fees to meet the state’s road repair needs.

“As the Legislature considers various sources of revenue for a transportation funding package, we think a good approach is to focus on increasing existing taxes and fees on fuels and vehicles to maintain the state’s general approach to having users of the transportation system pay for the associated costs,” the report said.

Brown has said California has $59 billion in deferred maintenance on state highways and $78 billion on local streets and roads.

California last raised its gas tax in 1994.

The Legislature is expected to vote on the proposal as early as Thursday.

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