California bill would tweak transit tax vote rule

| Friday, September 02, 2011

Only days remain in the regular session in California. Among the bills that could advance to the governor before time runs out is an effort to help relieve traffic congestion.

Awaiting a final vote on the Assembly floor is a bill that would allow local transportation agencies the ability to seek fuel surcharges with fewer votes required for passage. If approved, SB791 would head back to the Senate to consider changes before it can advance to the governor’s desk.

In an effort to keep more people off roadways, money raised through a surcharge on gas and diesel would be applied to transit, bike and pedestrian projects. Revenue could also be applied to build toll lanes or to make safety and maintenances upgrades to roads and bridges.

Electric car owners would also be required to chip in. Corresponding fees would be applied to the vehicle registrations.

Fees charged by local planning and transportation organizations could be in place for up to 30 years.

Supporters say the bill authorizes communities to address local transportation needs, improve mobility, and create jobs.

A simple majority vote of the people would be necessary for passage, rather than the two-thirds majority now required.

Opponents say the change would violate a couple of state rules. First, they say the bill flies in the face of a proposition previously approved by voters, which requires a two-thirds vote to approve taxes earmarked for specific use.

Second, critics argue it violates a separate voter-approved proposition that mandates a two-thirds vote to assess new fees. The rule does provide exceptions for new fees that provide benefits to those who are paying.

Supporters say the fees would provide a direct benefit to travelers paying the surcharge because there would be less congestion for truckers and other drivers.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California, click here.

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