Cheaper gas or better roads?

There’s a battle looming over the condition of California’s roads.

On one side are state and local officials successfully funding road repairs and transportation projects with the billions of dollars raised through SB 1: The Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017. On the other side is a group that has put an initiative on the November ballot to repeal the SB 1 tax increases that are helping the state tackle a maintenance backlog of over $130 billion in much-needed repairs for highways, roads and bridges.

What taxes and fees were enacted by SB 1?

SB 1, which took effect in November 2017, added a fuel tax of 12 cents per gallon for gasoline and 20 cents for diesel. It also increased vehicle registration fees. Those fees will begin adjusting for inflation in July 2020.

What does that money pay for?

SB 1 is expected to generate nearly $54 billion for California’s transportation needs over the next decade. The majority will go toward road rehabilitation and maintenance — half for state highways, half for city and county streets.  SB 1 sets an ambitious goal for repairs so that by 2027, at least 98 percent of state highway pavement is in good or fair condition. Funds are also designated for: repairing structurally-deficient bridges and overpasses; upgrading transit systems; improving the movement of goods from the state’s ports; and reducing traffic on some of the most heavily-congested travel corridors.

What would the repeal initiative do?

The repeal measure requires that any new transportation fuel taxes or road usage fees in California be approved by a majority vote of the public. But that statute would be retroactive to the beginning of 2017. In effect, it wipes out the major funding that SB 1 brings to the state — even though voters protected the use of SB 1 funds for transportation improvements by passing Proposition 69 in June.

Would work just stop if the repeal initiative passes?

Yes. If voters approve the repeal measure, the tax increases and new fees would cease beyond November. That means another $1.4 billion or so collected after July, and then nothing further in the years ahead. “This measure would jeopardize more than 5,000 transportation improvement projects currently underway or planned throughout the state — making our local roads less safe, more congested and more deteriorated,” said Robbie Hunter of the State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Who is opposed to the repeal?

Several coalitions are opposed, including groups from construction, trade unions and transit, as well as cities and counties that would lose major funding for transportation projects. The California Chamber of Commerce says the repeal will hurt business in the state and labor unions say well-paying construction jobs will be lost. Carolyn Coleman of the League of California Cities said a repeal “would mean the loss of important and scarce resources to make the long overdue improvements in our streets, roads and bridges.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who made road and highway repairs one of his highest policy priorities, has pledged to defend the gas tax from those trying to roll it back. Calling the repeal initiative “a flawed and dangerous measure that jeopardizes the safety of millions of Californians,” Brown said. “We want to vote ‘no’ on any attempt to repeal and throw back this tax.”

Roger Dickinson of Transportation California said that there will be a “vigorous and active campaign” to educate voters on the issues. “I think in part our responsibility to the taxpayers is to shine a bright spotlight on the improvements that these dollars are making in communities every day already,” added Carolyn Coleman of the League of California Cities.  Repeal, she said, “would mean the loss of important and scarce resources to make the long overdue improvements in our streets and roads and bridges.”

Southern California Partnership for Jobs supports infrastructure investment. We advocated for the passage of SB 1, a new transportation funding source that is becoming ever more critical for California. We oppose any efforts to repeal SB 1 that would rob our communities of vital road safety and transportation improvement funds.

Source: Various