Californians will pay more at the pump later this year – and more to register their cars and trucks starting next year – to fund transportation projects from pothole repairs to public transit, under legislation signed today by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The quiet signing statement emailed out from the governor’s office Friday was a stark contrast to the media blitz Brown and Democratic leaders put on to push the transportation funding deal through the Legislature. Lawmakers approved the bill, SB 1, on April 6 – the governor's self-imposed deadline and the day before the Legislature adjourned for spring break.
That furious, week-long sprint from the deal’s announcement to its final vote reflected the steep political challenge of winning two-thirds support in the Senate and Assembly.
Now that it’s passed, there’s no need for another splashy media event highlighting unpopular fuel tax and vehicle fee increases that could cost some Democratic lawmakers their re-election bids next year. A recall effort is already underway in Southern California, targeting Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who was just elected in November.
But make no mistake: the governor and most Democrats are proud of their accomplishment.
“Safe and smooth roads make California a better place to live and strengthen our economy,” Brown said in a prepared statement Friday. “This legislation will put thousands of people to work.”
Gas and diesel taxes will go up in November and the new vehicle fee takes effect at the start of 2018.
Brown’s action comes three weeks after the gas tax bill passed the Legislature. The governor waited for lawmakers to approve two other measures earlier this week that contain the side deals with swing-vote lawmakers that pushed the transportation funding over the finish line.
Republicans seized on the signing and vowed to campaign on it in next year's elections.
“Governor Brown and Capitol Democrats just gave us the largest gas tax increase in state history – a deal so bad they needed $1 billion in pork to buy the votes to pass it,” Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) said in his own statement. “California deserves better.”
The side deals include nearly $1 billion dollars earmarked for specific transportation projects in the Central Valley and Inland Empire, which won the votes of three swing-vote Democrats and the lone Republican to support the gas tax hike, Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres). Cannella, a civil engineer, also insisted on the inclusion of his legislation, SB 496, that will protect civil engineers and architects from certain lawsuits.
One previously unreported side deal came in response to a controversial provision agreed to by the governor and Democratic leaders that will delay stricter air quality regulations on commercial trucks.
The provision was tucked into the transportation deal to win the neutrality of the trucking industry, which will bear the brunt of the diesel tax increase. But environmental groups slammed it as a “poison pill” and “last-minute dirty deal.”
Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), whose Inland Empire district is among the most affected by air pollution from trucks, negotiated $50 million for what the bill, SB 132 (see Sec. 4), calls “a competitive funding program to advance implementation of zero/near zero emission warehouses and technology.”
“There are a number of different things you can do to control those emissions,” Leyva told Capital Public Radio on Friday. “It might not have to be replacing the truck completely; it might be an air filter.”
Leyva says she hopes the money will help mitigate some of the concerns of environmental groups regarding the trucking provision.
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