California to adopt new transportation taxes?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/19/2015

California state lawmakers returned from summer recess this week to restart discussion on a plan to come up with more money for transportation work. Legislators have until mid-September to reach agreement on a plan to address some of the $59 billion in state transportation needs over the next decade.

The Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Development Committee was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, Aug. 19, to get the ball rolling for consideration of funding options. The meeting is part of a special session on transportation.

One bill introduced by Sen. Jim Beal, the committee chairman, would raise revenue for infrastructure through higher fuel taxes.

Beal, D-San Jose, has said the state “must act now” to provide more resources for state and local roads.

His bill, SBX1 1, would raise about $4.3 billion annually. Most of the money would come by increasing the state’s excise tax on gas and diesel by 12 cents.

Other revenue enhancers included in the bill would gradually increase vehicle license fees by 1 percent, raise vehicle registration fees by $35 and subject zero-emission vehicles to an annual $100 fee.

In addition, the bill includes a requirement that all revenue would be used solely for road and bridge work, and $300 million annually would be used for improving freight mobility at ports.

The state would split all new revenue each year with cities and counties.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, said there is no support among Senate Republicans for raising taxes to fund road and bridge repairs. Instead, he wants to see reform measures adopted to pay for upgrades.

One example getting a lot of attention at the statehouse this year is the rerouting of $5 billion in certain truck fees and other transportation taxes. Since 2010 state lawmakers have rerouted from the state’s highway account to the general fund the vehicle weight fees paid by commercial vehicles.

Huff has offered two bills for consideration during the special session on transportation that would end the diversion of $3 billion annually in transportation tax dollars. The first bill, SCAX1 1, would let voters decide whether to protect $1.1 billion in transportation taxes by requiring the money to be used solely on transportation.

The second bill, SBX1 2, would dedicate $1.9 billion in cap-and-trade funding raised from taxes on motor fuels for transportation infrastructure.

The cap-and-trade program charges fees to polluters in the state. At the first of the year, the program was expanded to include gas and diesel producers.

“The first step in any discussion on transportation infrastructure must be to earn back the public’s trust by ending the ongoing diversions of transportation taxes,” Huff said in prepared remarks.

Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Antelope Valley, is behind another bill to prohibit cap-and-trade funds from being used for high-speed rail. Instead, SBX1 6 would require cap-and-trade revenue to be used for existing transportation projects.

In 2008, voters approved a bond to fund construction of a high-speed rail project that would allow travelers to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours. The project has languished with some state lawmakers calling for revenue to be used elsewhere.

Currently, 25 percent of annual cap-and-trade proceeds are routed to the project.

“We need to work on improving our existing transportation system. Fixing and updating our roads to meet current demands would … reduce greenhouse gases right away,” Runner stated.

Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, has introduced a bill that would permit voters to decide whether high-speed rail bond proceeds totaling nearly $8 billion will be redirected to highways, roads and bridges.

SBX1 3 is on the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Development Committee’s agenda for consideration.

One more bill that could soon come up for consideration would tap truckers to help pay for transit work.

Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, is behind a bill that would triple the diesel fuel sales tax from 1.75 percent to 5.25 percent. The estimated $288 million each year in new revenue would be used to help maintain transit systems throughout the state.

The San Francisco Bay Area would get an estimated $110 million annually.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, said traffic congestion in areas such as the Highway 101 corridor put “strains on business productivity as well as our personal time. … Increasing capacity of public transit systems must be part of the solution.”

The bill is ABX1 8. The Senate version is SBX1 7.

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

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