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California Transportation Spending Gets Boost from Budget Revision

A short term increase in spending hides California's annual structural deficit of almost $6 billion—money needed to maintain the state's roads and bridges.
May 17, 2015, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"With nearly $7 billion in unexpected revenues the budget is now the highest in state history at more than $115 billion," writes Gene Haagenson of ABC Action News in Fresno about the May revision.

While transportation spending will increase, it won't nearly be enough to meet road and bridge maintenance and rehabilitation needs. Josh Richman of Bay Area News Group indicates the two increases to transportation funding in the revision:

  • Brown's proposal would boost general-fund spending on transportation from $200 million in the current year to $261 million in 2015-15, a 30.5 percent increase.
  • There's also $8.86 billion in special funds and $2.1 billion in bond funds earmarked for transportation, bringing next year's total to about $11.2 billion.

On May 8, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released a 10-year planning report detailing the spending shortfall. "California needs an additional $5.7 billion per year to maintain its roads," writes Robin Respaut for Reuters. The report indicates that Caltrans "would need about $8 billion annually for the next 10 years to reach management and improvement goals for its highway system, but only $2.3 billion annually has been budgeted."

Caltrans said it needed the funding for critical infrastructure projects to roadways and bridges planned over the next decade. There are more than 50,000 state highway lane miles and more than 13,000 bridges across the state.

The Caltrans report appears consistent with Gov. Jerry Brown's infrastructure goal mentioned in his January inauguration/state of the state address to fund the $59 billion backlog of deferred highway and bridge maintenance.

Meanwhile, the state's 36 cents per gasoline excise tax will drop six cents come July 1 due to a February 24 vote by the Board of Equalization. And Richman reminds readers that "gas-tax revenue is decreasing as cars become more fuel efficient and some drivers switch to hybrids or electric cars -- good for the environment, but bad for highways."

To address the shortfall, the state legislature passed one measure last year and is considering tax and fee increases this year:

Richman adds a "bright spot" resulting "from the state's cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: $1.6 billion went to clean-transportation and mass-transit uses starting in the current budget year." 

Bottom line: a lot is riding on SB 16.

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Published on Thursday, May 14, 2015 in San Jose Mercury News
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