Raising gas taxes and vehicle fees is about the least popular thing a California politician can do. Just ask former Gov. Gray Davis, who was recalled after raising what Arnold Schwarzenegger dubbed the “car tax.”
So it took the full negotiating power of Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders to push their transportation funding measure across the finish line Thursday.
Just hours before the scheduled vote on the transportation funding deal, a new bill emerged with a billion dollars in earmarks for the Central Valley and Inland Empire – two regions that often lose out to big cities in the Bay Area and Southern California.
Asm. Adam Gray (D-Merced) made no bones about his deal-making to extend commuter rail from the Bay Area to his district.
“It’s protected money, dedicated to transportation, specific projects that we can point to in our community, and it gives the valley access to some of this transit,” Gray said a few hours before the vote.
The new gas taxes and vehicle fees will raise an estimated $52 billion over the first decade for road repairs, public transit and other transportation projects.
When the bill came up for debate, Republicans slammed it. Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) spoke of the hardships the tax and fee increases will impose on poor and middle-class Californians.
“I don’t want them to have to live through what I did, when my parents had to choose between making sure that they could get to work, or buy a gallon of milk for my siblings and I,” Nguyen said.
But with crucial support from one Republican, Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), Democrats used their supermajorities to muscle the bill past the two-thirds threshold to raise taxes and fees – without a single vote to spare.
Afterwards, Brown and a bunch of triumphant lawmakers emerged from the governor’s office to take a victory lap.
“Tonight, we did something to fix the roads of California,” Brown said.
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.”
It was an early birthday present for the oldest governor in California history, who turns 79 Friday.