The California state legislature recently entered into a special session to deal with our state’s most pressing matters. Among the top concerns, and of special concern to local government and area businesses, is transportation.
Roads, highways and bridges are the infrastructure catalyst we all require for our transportation needs and the current state of our transportation maintenance is dismal and falling apart.
With calls from transportation experts and business organizations to further investment in repairs and upgrades the state is finally heeding those requests. The question is has the state added to the cost of repairs by waiting until the last minute? And where will the funding come from? The answers, it seems, is yes and from hard working Californians.
Some in the legislature are floating the idea of a use tax on drivers, while others support an added gasoline tax on top of the California Air Resource Board’s carbon cap & trade tax on gas coming January 2016.
Last week while visiting my daughter in Lake Tahoe, I was amazed that once we crossed the border into Nevada a gallon of gasoline was $ 1.50 cheaper per gallon. For the average California family that means spending on average an additional $2,000.00 more per year than families in neighboring states.
The projected cost to improve driving conditions in California, including easing of traffic conditions in major metropolitan areas, is estimated at around $6 billion annually for the next 10 years.
If given the green light the transportation rehabilitation project could be split between the state, counties and local cities increasing area job opportunities and economic growth.
With businesses reliant upon our streets and highways to move goods and services around, and the safety of all drivers who see pot holes, congestion and sink holes far more often, the price of not doing anything will decimate our economy and risk the safety of the public at-large.
California’s economy loses an estimated $44 billion in economic productivity due to poor road conditions and congestion. That’s nearly $2,500 per driver annually.
The Assembly Republican Caucus presented a well thought out nine-point, $ 6.6 billion plan to fund transportation infrastructure without raising additional taxes by taking a portion of six existing funds. The proposed plan is as follows:
⦁ Using 40% of funds in California’s Cap-and-trade program would generate $1 billion + annually. The goal of cap-and-trade is to offset the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on our environment. Californians currently pay higher prices at the pump because fuels now included in this program, making cap-and-trade funds directly linked to transportation infrastructure. Better roads mean better fuel efficiency which leads to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
⦁ Using $1 billion annually from vehicle weight fees. This fee is a non-controversial fee made to off-set the damage and costs done to our roads by heavy trucks. During the recession, VWF revenue was diverted to other purposes away from road maintenance. This budget gimmick is no longer needed and it is time to put this money back towards its original intended use.
⦁ Invest half of the Governor’s strategic growth fund into shovel ready road projects. Many do not know that the state budget provides the Governor with $400 million a year for projects of his choosing. The Assembly Caucus plan prioritizes and reduces this discretionary pot of taxpayer money by half, freeing up to $200 million for road projects that can easily make a difference for all Californians.
⦁ Eliminating redundancies at Caltrans would give us an extra $500 million annually. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office’s recommendation to eliminate 3,500 redundant positions at Caltrans would not negatively impact and construction jobs.
⦁ Eliminating and capturing savings from 25 percent of long-term vacant state positions would save $685 million annually to use towards infrastructure. There are thousands of vacant positions in state government that remain unfilled for more than six months. Until recently, the law required that any such position be eliminated. While some positions are essential and difficult to fill, the majority are not, and in fact are intentionally kept vacant so that state agencies can capture the money and spend it elsewhere. This money is better used fixing roads than padding state bureaucracy. The proposal is for 25 percent of these vacant positions to be eliminated, using the saving to fund transportation projects.
⦁ Make a formal commitment in the State Budget General Fund to fund transportation $1 billion annually. The last two budgets grew spending by $8.1 billion and $7.5 billion respectively. Early indications are that we will have $4 billion more revenue next year. Despite this revenue surge, these budgets completely ignored the state’s transportation needs. According to the LAO, the three-year revenue forecast is such that we can fully fund Prop 98 and the Rainy Day Fund, and still dedicate $1 billion annually to transportation. We propose doing this. Transportation is a top priority, a core function of government, and must be funded as such.
⦁ + $2.3 billion in approved spending for 2015-2016 fiscal year for transportation.
This equals $6.6 billion to fund transportation projects while adding 90,000 jobs to our workforce without raising taxes.
And when you factor in our state’s growth projections, expected to reach 41 million by 2020, with Los Angeles County growing to 11 million residents, we can spend wisely now or spend $68 billion over the next 14 years to usher folks from LA to San Francisco on a train project experts agree will cost nearly double by the completion date.
California needs to rebuild its neglected roads and highways. It’s time to be serious about fixing the problem and defer the high speed rail project. This way we all can enjoy safe travels.
Mario A. Guerra is the former mayor of Downey, president of Independent Cities Association representing 50 cities and 7 million residents, and current treasurer of the California Republican Party.