Earlier this month, the Davis voters voted down (sort of) a parcel tax measure that would have funded $3 million for roads over the next decade, in hopes of closing what is believed to be about an $8 million gap. Measure I needed two-thirds vote to be approved and only received 57 percent.
The bad news could multiply if a proposition that qualified for the ballot yesterday becomes law.
The measure would eliminate recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing the gas tax put in place this year. That means about $2.9 billion would be eliminated in 2019-20 – which would have increased to $4.9 billion annually by 2020-21.
Polls show most California voters “want to kill the new tax.”
Governor Brown blasted the initiative: “This flawed and dangerous measure pushed by Trump’s Washington allies jeopardizes the safety of millions of Californians by stopping local communities from fixing their crumbling roads and bridges. Just say no.”
But the LA Times points out that Governor Brown is up against a campaign financed by national Republican leaders including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the California Republican Party and GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox.
The paper reports, “Together they spent $1.7 million to put the initiative on the ballot, and are expected to spend millions more to make sure voters repeal the tax and fees, a campaign they hope will turn out a conservative tide for congressional races.”
“This is a message to the millions of forgotten Californians ignored by the Sacramento political elite, help is on the way,” said John Cox in a written statement. “Let this also be a message to every special interest in Sacramento, we’re coming for you. You can outspend the people, but you can’t outvote the people, because there are more of us than there are of you.”
Governor Brown, said to be fighting for his legacy, has about $14.8 million in his campaign account which would be available to fight the repeal.
“If you say no, what? We are just going to go back to congestion, call a halt to this project, stop the projects for the Olympics?” Governor Brown said. “That is really dumb and I don’t believe Californians are going to do that. That’s why we want to vote ‘no’ on any attempt to repeal and throw back this tax.”
Governor Brown believes that there is a large backlog of road and bridge repairs that will require additional money. Senate Bill 1 raised the state gas tax by 12 cents per gallon and boosted the diesel fuel tax by 20 cents per gallon.
The front line in the fight against the repeal may be local mayors. For example, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti argued that “potholed roads and crumbling bridges in their communities need the influx of dollars provided by the new tax and fees.
“If you want to pay for more popped tires, realigned axles, you want to see our roads continue to deteriorate, go ahead and repeal SB 1,” Mr. Garcetti said. “But we all know like with our houses, if we don’t fix the leak we are going to be paying a lot more in the future.”
Locally, we figure that SB1 might mean $1.5 million annually for local roads in Davis. With the failure of Measure I, we could have to look at about $4.5 million or so to close the funding gap in roads.
That could be very bad news. One of the points that was never fully made during the Measure I election is the multiplier effect of deferred maintenance on roadways. The first problem is one of inflation – in the past the city has projected an increase of about 8 percent per year just for the cost of asphalt. Some of that had been mitigated with lower oil prices, but the cost of oil has been going up in the recent years – independent of the gas tax – and so costs for road repairs is on the rise.
But the bigger problem is that the cost of road repair goes up exponentially as the roadway conditions deteriorate.
Initial costs are less than $10 per yard, but they could increase to nearly $100 per yard if the road is not repaired on schedule.
In other words, as conditions decline, the costs are likely to triple and then increase up to ten-fold. That is how projects go from $100 million in road repairs to over $400 million in maintenance needs fairly rapidly.
The piece of analysis we never have received is how much it would cost the city if voters did not approve the $3 million in parcel tax revenues.
That number figures to get even higher as we are threatened to lose the state SB1 money as well.
The thing is – people may not like the gas tax, but the cost of gas is going up by a lot more than just 12 cents per gallon. But the timing could not have been worse. We will have to see how this campaign plays out, but right now it doesn’t look like good news for the local roadways.
—David M. Greenwald reporting