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California Governor Brown's Conflicting Road Budget Priorities

When his father was governor, California was awash in federal highway dollars. Now Jerry Brown's administration contemplates a risky tax hike, juggling the need for road improvements with a clean, transit-oriented agenda.
July 7, 2015, 9am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Jeff Turner (JefferyTurner)

More than a little historical irony accompanies California's newest budgetary predicament. "After years of neglect, state officials estimate it will cost $59 billion to fix the now-crumbling roads and freeways that Gov. Edmund G. 'Pat' Brown championed more than five decades ago. And it's up to his son, Gov. Jerry Brown, to find the money." 

Pat Brown's mid-century administration benefited from abundant federal money for new roads and highways. Now, federal transportation funding is drying up while an explosion of efficient cars has hobbled the state gas tax. 

But more taxes are the only clear solution. "[T]he governor recently called a special legislative session to focus lawmakers' attention on the problems with roads, and a hearing is scheduled for Thursday. The result could be new fees and taxes for drivers — a politically charged scenario in a state with a celebrated romance with the automobile." Auto-related taxes are often politically toxic in California. But this time, business may be willing to stomach a tax hike for the sake of better roads.

Gov. Brown's administration is caught between its stated environmental priorities—including high-speed rail—and an auto infrastructure behemoth reaching deep into the state's coffers.

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Published on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 in Los Angeles Times
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