Californians work to end diversion of road tax money

| 12/21/2004

A new effort to restrict gas tax money to transportation work is taking shape in California.

A combination of transportation officials, labor and business leaders and local officials want the state to stop diverting gas tax money to uses other than transportation, according to media reports. 

Those diversions have already moved $2 billion out of the state’s road funds, according to an analysis by the Keston Institute for Infrastructure at the University of Southern California. And a report in The Sacramento Bee indicated those diversions could include another $1.4 billion in the next year.

That has happened despite a ballot measure, approved by nearly 70 percent of the state’s voters in 2002, mandating that California could not divert the funds away from transportation except in an emergency. Proposition 42, as the measure is known, requires a two-thirds vote of the state’s Legislature to move the money elsewhere.

“Like most states, California is in a budget crisis,” Keston Institute officials said in an Executive Summary. “We are struggling to supply urgently needed services with diminishing revenues. As in many states, California's transportation funds are being cut to fund other needs.”

That has led to a number of public figures calling for an end to the diversions.

"My hunch is the average San Diegan doesn't have a clue that the Legislature is robbing these dollars," Gary Gallegos, executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, told Copley News Service.

"Our roads are now Third World roads," Bob Balgenorth, a state building trades official on the California Transportation Commission, told The Bee.

"It's time to stop using Proposition 42 as a piggy bank," Robert Balgenorth, president of the California Building & Construction Trades Council, said in the Copley report. 

Lawmakers are already acting to close the loophole in Proposition 42 that has allowed continued diversions. The Bee reported that Assemblyman Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, and Assemblyman George Plescia, R-La Jolla, would introduce a constitutional amendment to do just that.

It’s not the first time that Harman has made such an effort. During last year’s session, he introduced ACA 29, a proposed contitutional amendment also designed to restrict transportation tax money to road work. However, in May 2004, he announced that the bill failed to receive passage in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“The transportation fund has been cut to nearly zero due to so-called ‘fiscal emergencies’ that continue to plague California,” Harman said at that time. “In the meantime, our highways and streets are falling into an acute state of disrepair.

“California’s highway system is being shortchanged by the very people that are supposed to fund it. The raiding of transportation dollars needs to stop and it needs to stop now.”