Will 2016 Be the Year California Finally Raises its 22-Year-Old Gas Tax?

Despite several attempts by Sen. Jim Beall (D-S.J.) and Gov. Jerry Brown, the Republicans have shown no willingness to lend their support to increasing the state gas tax, last raised in 1994, to repair roads and bridges.
January 4, 2016, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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John Howard of Capitol Weekly looks at prospects for increasing transportation funding in the Golden State in 2017. Last year saw Jim Beall's SB 16, which would have hiked gas taxes by 10 cents a gallon and diesel taxes by 12 cents, came within one vote of passing the state senate.

Gov. Jerry Brown called for a special session in the summer, and Beall's new bill, SB X1-1, fared no better. Even after Brown reduced the amount of the fuel tax increase, Republicans would not budge.

But road funding advocates have not given up. After all, the roads only continue to get worse due to the "$59 billion backlog of deferred road maintenance, and an annual shortage of about $5.7 billion in its highway operations and protection program, according to statistics compiled by road improvement advocate," writes Howard.

“There are a lot of discussions going on behind the scenes,” said Jim Earp of the Alliance for Jobs, which represents builders and workers, part of a coalition that includes cities and counties pushing for road improvements with, at a bare minimum, a $6 billion annual price tag.

One surprise Howard writes is that Gov. Brown floated the idea of bypassing the legislature and going to the ballot as he successfully did with a temporary sales and income tax two years ago in the form Prop. 30.

The last gas tax increase was the result of a legislative initiative, Prop. 111 in June, 1990, that doubled the 9-cent gas tax incrementally. If Brown was serious about bypassing the legislature, he would have to launch a signature-gathering effort as he did with two earlier tax increases embodied in Prop. 30 in 2012.

While California has shown itself to be a leader in many issues, particularly with environmental legislation—the landmark bill passed last year, SB 350, sets a target of generating 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and increasing energy efficiency by 50 percent in existing buildings by the same year, took effect on New Years Day. But sadly, when it comes to infrastructure, with one notable exception, the Golden State has clearly not lived up to its progressive image.

While 11 states increased their gas taxes and/or user fees last year [see list in Washington state post; Michigan was the last state to do so in November], California was the only state to substantially reduce its gas tax—by 6 cents, on July 1.

Hat tip to Len Conly, Sierra Club Transportation Forum

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Published on Wednesday, December 23, 2015 in Capitol Weekly
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