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