California's Deferred Road and Bridge Maintenance Balloons to $77 Billion

In his 2015 state of the state address, Gov. Jerry Brown announced his intention to tackle the Golden State's formidable $59 billion road and bridge deficit. A year later, that staggering figure jumped 30 percent to $77 billion.
January 24, 2016, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Melody Gutierrez of the San Francisco Chronicle's Sacramento bureau reports on Gov. Jerry Brown's 20-minute state of the state speech, as she did for a post last year that described the formidable infrastructure and environmental goals included in the speech.

The state’s $77 billion in deferred maintenance — primarily for fixing roads, highways and bridges — is a problem that must be addressed, the four-term governor told lawmakers in his 14th State of the State speech.

“That means at some point, sooner rather than later, we have to bite the bullet and enact new fees and taxes for this purpose,” Brown, 77, said. “Ideology and politics stand in the way, but one way or another the roads must be fixed.

The increase shows the pressing need to attend to infrastructure which worsens when not addressed. Two bills by Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) sought to increase gas taxes and vehicle fees last year: SB 16 in the regular session and SB X1-1 in the special session called by Brown.

However, the California constitution requires a two-thirds legislative majority to pass tax and fee increases, a result of the landmark 1978 ballot measure, Proposition 13. As long as Republicans resist increasing the gas tax, last increased in 1994, and insist that general funds should be used to address transportation infrastructure, a compromise would appear elusive.

Worsening the infrastructure deficit was that California saw a substantial gasoline excise tax "adjustment" on July 1, a decrease of six cents or 17 percent, while ten states, all but three with Republican governors, and eight have legislatures controlled by Republicans, increased gas taxes last year.

[See list of eight state gas tax increases that passed last year that are included in a July post on Washington state's gas 11.9-cents tax increase—it's only missing Michigan's 7.3-cent increase that passed in November.] California's 40.62-cent gas tax (PDF) now ranks fourth behind Pennsylvania, Washington, and Hawaii. [See API's interactive map as of Jan. 1, 2016.]

Brown did target substantial funds for infrastructure, though it wasn't clear whether it would go to roads and bridges. 

"Brown proposed using $2 billion in “temporary surplus” money in this year’s budget for a one-time investment to repair aging infrastructure, from state office buildings in Sacramento, to levees, prisons, state hospitals and parks," writes Gutierrez. Unlike roads and bridges, none of the aforementioned categories can be funded by gas taxes due to constitutional restrictions placed on these funds.

Other types of infrastructure that Brown addressed, or neglected to:

Noticeably missing from Brown’s speech was any mention of high-speed rail, one of the largest infrastructure projects in the state that has a long list of detractors. Brown skimmed over another project he’s championed — the controversial delta tunnels — although he said the state needs a wide range of investments in water reliability, including “reliable conveyance.”

Among those other types of water infrastructure mentioned in the speech text:

We have to recharge our aquifers, manage the groundwater, recycle, capture stormwater, build storage and reliable conveyance, improve efficiency everywhere, invest in new technologies - including desalination - and all the while recognize that there are some limits.

Gutierrez also describes criticisms of his speech—particularly from fellow Democrats—as does John MyersLos Angeles Times' Sacramento bureau chief, in his piece. Gutierrez also has an article in Governing via Tribune News Service more targeted to transportation funding.

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Published on Thursday, January 21, 2016 in San Francisco Chronicle
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