Transportation Funding Special Session Underway

While the Congress has punted on federal transportation funding with another extension until Halloween, the California Legislature is taking up the question in a serious way, with a special session called by Governor Brown to deal with the issue.

There’s a time limit on this effort (September 11th) but the point of the effort is perennial—find a long-term solution to finance improvements to state and local streets, roads and highways. The Legislature has a limited time, so a short special session may be the best way of doing hard thinking on tough issues.

People in the transportation and construction industries are encouraged that the governor and key lawmakers are fully engaged in getting something done this year.

“Speaker Atkins is also very committed to getting something done and has assigned key staff to help execute operations and tactics,” said Jim Earp, a member of the state Transportation Commission.

Earp, who also serves as the Executive Consultant to the California Alliance for Jobs and as a board member for Transportation California had some additional thoughts:

“Putting together a package that can receive the needed two-thirds majority in both houses between now and September 11 will be a heavy lift, but there is a growing bipartisan recognition that the current funding level isn’t adequate to meet our transportation needs,” Earp said.

The State Senate and Assembly have held informational hearings and discussions are under way among lawmakers and the transportation community on how to address the steep backlog in street and highway maintenance.

Significant Needs

Due to years of underfunding, Caltrans estimates its backlog of unfunded projects is $59 billion while cities and counties estimate their cumulative backlog is $78 billion. So it’s no surprise that California’s urban roads were recently found to be the worst in the nation, according to The Road Information Program (TRIP).

A broad coalition of local government, business, labor and transportation advocates—including the League of California Cities, California State Coalition of Counties, Alliance for Jobs and Transportation California—developed what they are calling the “principles” that should be the basis for any legislative funding package, including:

  • Make it a significant investment. The coalition believes any package approved by lawmakers should raise at least $6 billion annually in increased funding and should remain in place for at least 10 years, or until an alternative method of funding transportation is agreed upon.
  • Focus on maintaining the system. Beyond just filling potholes, state and local governments need to resurface pavement, fix unsafe bridges, provide safe access for bicyclists and pedestrians and replace worn-out stormwater culverts.
  • Raise revenues broadly. Research by the Alliance and Transportation California shows voters strongly support increased funding for transportation and are more open to spreading potential tax and fee increases across a broad range of options. Among the possible options are increasing the gas and diesel tax, higher vehicle registration and license fees, dedicating a portion of cap-and-trade revenues and instituting a user charge to ensure drivers of electric and other non-fossil fuel vehicles contribute to road maintenance.
  • Strong accountability. Taxpayers must be assured that all transportation revenues are spent responsibly. State and local governments must report annually on how the money is being spent.
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