California's Infrastructure Advocate Champions Fourth Funding Option

Will Kempton, former Caltrans chief under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who subsequently headed the Orange County Transportation Authority, now heads Transportation California which has proposed an initiative to tax vehicles to fund infrastructure.
December 20, 2013, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"Earlier this year, Kempton was named executive director of Transportation California, which advocates for increased infrastructure investment," writes Ryan Holeywell.

Kempton and his group are backing a ballot initiative to shore up transportation funding in the Golden State. Last month, Transportation California filed paperwork with the state's attorney general for the "California Road Repairs Act of 2014." 

This transportation 'option', as funding strategies are typically called, is different from most measures discussed here, including state gas taxes, including excise taxes and wholesale taxes, road tolling, and vehicle-miles-traveled fees. The method chosen is to restore the vehicle license fee (VLF) - a type of property tax based on the resale vale of the vehicle, to 2%. It has been .65% since his former boss, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, reduced it as he promised in the recall election of then-Gov. Gray Davis. More detail can be found on last month's post on the initiative.

An advantage of the VLF is that it is a progressive tax, unlike the regressive gas tax. A disadvantage is that it makes for a very poor 'user fee' - the tax is the same whether the vehicle is driven 100 or 10,000 miles a year.

Kempton ruled out gas taxes, calling them unpopular. Besides, the Golden State already has the highest state gas tax @53.5 cents [PDF].

Transportation California's polling confirms that an increase in the vehicle license fees would gain more traction with voters than a gas-tax hike or a vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) fee. (Kempton says a VMT fee may be a long-term solution but isn't politically viable today.)

Their initiative, while awaiting titling by the state attorney general's office, is far from a done deal, as their website indicates.

We want to make it perfectly clear to everyone receiving this notification that Transportation California and the Alliance for Jobs, along with our coalition of interested parties, has NOT made a final decision to pursue such a measure in 2014. We are simply keeping our options open.

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Published on Tuesday, December 17, 2013 in Governing
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