Will State Roads Funding Become Reality?



While the City of Davis is looking toward a local revenue stream, possibly in the form of a utility user tax to fund up to $5.5 million in infrastructure needs – the bulk of which would need to be roads, sidewalks and bike paths, a coalition of business, builders and unions is emerging that is pushing forward a framework that would increase funding for transportation.

The coalition formed in July with Governor Jerry Brown’s calling of the special session on transportation in conjunction with the budget deal he reached in late June with legislators. The coalition seeks $6 billion annually, split equally between the state and local governments, over the next decade.

In a release on Monday, the League of California Cities noted, “California’s network of roads and highways are deteriorating rapidly. In fact, California has the second highest share of roads in ‘poor condition’ nationally and 58 percent of state roads need rehabilitation or pavement maintenance. Our state is also home to four of the five cities ranked with the worst road conditions in the nation. California local streets and roads face a $78 billion shortfall in deferred maintenance, $7.8 billion annually. CalTrans faces a $59 billion backlog in deferred maintenance and $5.7 billion annual shortfall in the State Highway Operation and Protection Program.”

Jim Earp, Executive Consultant for California Alliance for Jobs said on Monday, “We haven’t had any significant increase in funding in 20 years, which is why our roads are in such a deplorable state.”

In a letter late last week signed by a broad coalition of people as diverse as the California Chamber of Commerce and California Business Roundtable at one end, the League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties on another, and various unions, a framework was laid out due to the belief that “it is imperative that a legislative solution be reached during the special session that results in a robust and meaningful dent in California’s transportation funding shortfall.”

“It is a critical issue that cannot wait to be addressed. Our roads continue to deteriorate as inadequate funding to deal with deficiencies creates safety hazards, costs motorists money and leaves Californians stuck in gridlock,” the coalition writes.

The seven-point plan could form the basis for a bipartisan transportation and roads plan. The coalition calls for a package that would seek to raise at least $6 billion annually and remain in place at least ten years.

The focus would be on maintaining and rehabilitating the current system. They write, “Repairing California’s streets and highways involves much more than fixing potholes.” Instead, they argue it requires “major road pavement overlays, fixing unsafe bridges, providing safe access for bicyclists and pedestrians, replacing storm water culverts, as well as operational improvements that necessitate, among other things, the construction of auxiliary lanes to relieve traffic congestion choke points and fixing design deficiencies that have created unsafe merging and other traffic hazards.”

The plan also calls for them to invest a portion of the diesel tax and cap and trade revenue to “high-priority goods movement projects.” The coalition writes, “While the focus of a transportation funding package should be on maintaining and rehabilitating the existing system, California has a critical need to upgrade the goods movement infrastructure that is essential to our economic well-being. Establishing a framework to make appropriate investments in major goods movement arteries can lay the groundwork for greater investments in the future that will also improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Furthermore, they call on raising revenues across a broad range of options, arguing that polling shows that “voters strongly support increased funding for transportation improvements. They are much more open to a package that spreads potential tax or fee increases across a broad range of options rather than just one source.” These include gasoline taxes, vehicle license and registration fees, cap and trade revenue to pay for transportation projects, and user charges for “electric and other non-fossil fuel powered vehicles that currently do not contribute to road upkeep.”

The plan calls for an equal split between state and local projects. “Funding to local governments should be provided directly (no intermediaries) to accelerate projects and ensure maximum accountability.”

Strong accountability requirements are planned to protect the taxpayers’ investment, as they note, “Voters and taxpayers must be assured that all transportation revenues are spent responsibly.” That means, “[C]onstitutionally protect transportation revenues for transportation infrastructure only.”

It also means, “Establish performance and accountability criteria to ensure efficient and effective use of all funding.” Furthermore, they intend to implement Caltrans reform and oversight. “To increase Caltrans effectiveness, provide stronger oversight by the state transportation commission of the programs funded by new revenues and establish an Inspector General office to provide accountability. Reduce Caltrans administrative budgets through efficiency reviews with all savings to be spent on road improvements.”

Finally, they argue that funding levels need to be consistent year to year. They argue, “Under current statute, the annual gas tax adjustment by the Board of Equalization is creating extreme fluctuations in funding levels — a $900 million drop in this budget year alone. A transportation funding package should contain legislation that will create more consistent revenue projections and allow Caltrans and transportation agencies the certainty they need for longer term planning. While this change would not provide any new revenue to transportation, it would provide greater certainty for planning and project delivery purposes.”

In mid-July, Dan Carson, writing for the Vanguard, noted that, for the first time in decades, there is a growing bipartisan consensus in the California Legislature to significantly bolster funding for state and local transportation needs. Locally, he said, this could mean as much as $3 million per year in additional state funding for the City of Davis for its program to maintain city streets and bike paths.

“Given its ongoing shortfall of funding to maintain and fix parks and civic buildings, the additional state help is unlikely to end current discussions about a June 2016 local utility users tax measure aimed at improving City of Davis infrastructure,” Mr. Carson wrote.

He added, “For one thing, the amount of additional state aid coming to Davis could well turn out to be less than $3 million annually. For another, the exact amount of additional city funding that the city will need to support its road and bike path rehabilitation program is still in flux.”

However, with a large and diverse coalition forming to support funding for road repairs, it seems much more likely that we will see significant new investment in roads.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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7 thoughts on “Will State Roads Funding Become Reality?”

  1. Davis Progressive

    this has a chance to work, but the city has to avoid the problems of before by creating its own revenue stream.  $3 million is probably one-third of what we need.

    1. Matt Williams

      $3 million is probably one-third of what we need.

      One-third is my calculation as well based on the various Staff Reports that have focused on streets/roads.

  2. Anon

    My guess is what Gov Brown will be calling for is a new “transportation” tax. Let’s face it, the money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the taxpayers’ pocket. So the question becomes what form is this “transportation” tax going to take?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      The coalition has a funding measure that I included – it’s several different revenue streams. The broad coalition is necessary in part because of the two-thirds requirement tax measures. It appears that there will be Republican support given the support of the Business Roundtable and the Cal Chamber.

  3. TrueBlueDevil

    This article passes over the many political problems here and past mistakes. As a state, we are horrible at wisely spending taxpayers hard-earned monies. Should we not manange our current funds better, and spend funds more efficiently?

    1. California lawmakers, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis transferred gasoline taxes away from roads into the general fund to fill a “funding gap”. No wonder roads have fallen behind.

    2. Lawmakers will pass laws and play games with money we as citizens want specifically to go to roads and bridges. They mismanage the money we give them, pass laws that counter our stipulated mandates, and then they come back for more?

    3. We have some of the highest taxes in the nation, and highest gas taxes, yet we can’t even maintain what we have?

    4. Prevailing wage laws increase construction costs by up to 22 percent.

    5. The non-partisan GAO has said that environmental and administrative hurdles can mean that one project will take between 4 and 10 years before it can be completed.

    6. The Bay Bridge was originally estimated to cost $1.1 Billion. We could have retrofitted what we had at a cost of $900 Million. Mayors Willie Brown (D) and Jerry Brown (D) lobbied for a more striking architecture statement. That statement cost us $7 Billion, plus interest, and it is plagued with problems of historic magnitude.

    7. We’re going to build a $70-100 Billion bullet train that the public is now against, up Highway 99, which will lengthen the trip, dramatically raise costs, and lower ridership. We have the right-of-way on Highway 5. But Democrats again make another illogical choice, most likely based on politics, and the project will be bogged down in lawsuits and cost overruns. If it ever gets fully built, what will it cost. $200 Billion? $300 Billion?

    Divert that money to roads, bridges, local mass transit (LA Metro, BART), and add a lane to Highway 5. This thing has all the signs of a complete disaster.

    8. Higher gas taxes (fees) hurt working families.

    9. Higher gas taxes (fees) hurt small businesses. It is estimated that a tax increase would cost us 18,000 jobs and $3 Billion in lost economic activity.

    10. Sacramento Bee writer Dan Walters last year noted that an analyst study concluded that Caltrans was overstaffed to the tune of 3500 employees! No wonder they want more roads and bridges. Why not layoff the unneeded employees, and direct the funds to roads?

    1. Frankly

      Good stuff.  The problem we seem to have is no reverse on our government spending.  The economy grows and the politicians and bureaucrats spend more because “people expect it”.  The economy tanks and the politicians and bureaucrats spend more because “people are hurting.”

      Working people ARE hurting today because their tax burden is way too large.  We just need to slice the size and cost of government and focus more on infrastructure spending.  We do not need another tax increase.

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