In reaction to funding cuts announced by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) on May 18, hundreds of people led by unions, business leaders and local governments held a rally outside the state Capitol, calling on the Legislature to reach a funding compromise to address a massive backlog in needed maintenance to state transportation infrastructure.
The CTC voted to adopt a five-year state transportation funding plan that sanctions more than $754 million in cuts to planned highway, transit, rail and other projects because of falling tax revenues. The commission also voted to delay another $755 million in planned projects.
The declining revenues are tied to gas prices. A move made by the Legislature during the budget crisis means gas taxes are set annually by the State Board of Equalization based on fuel prices. The tax was set at 17 cents per gallon in 2010 and has now fallen to 12 cents. It will fall to less than 10 cents a gallon in July. That’s led to billions of dollars less in revenues than planners had expected—and to the hefty cuts adopted by the CTC.
The affected projects range from HOV lanes in Southern California’s Ventura County to proposed BART station modernization in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in Northern California.
Gov. Jerry Brown called a special session on transportation funding last year and made the issue a priority in his January State of the State address, but the issue so far has failed to gain traction in the Legislature and a transportation funding fix remains elusive. Republicans have urged one-time investments in infrastructure improvements, but Democratic leaders say a permanent, long-term funding source is needed.
The political back-and forth has left interest groups and local governments frustrated.
“It’s very clear it’s a problem that needs to be solved. I would say there’s almost universal agreement on that,” said Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake. “What we’re in disagreement on is where that money should come from.”
“Our biggest fear is that we’re going to solve this problem only after we get a bridge collapse. We’ve seen that in other states. When a bridge crumbles, you get some catastrophe and then you get the money,” said Matt Cate, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, one of several groups that have formed a coalition called Fix Our Roads. The group also includes labor unions that stand to lose thousands of construction jobs for repair work and new projects.
CTC Chairman Bob Alvarado denounced the planned cuts, saying “all Californians are paying a big price for the woefully inadequate investment in our transportation infrastructure.” In an interview at the rally, Alvarado said that among the proposals being floated to rectify the issue is one that would set the gas tax at a stable, consistent rate, helping to prevent future cuts like the $754 million just voted on.
Alvarado called for Democrats and Republican lawmakers to find a compromise. “Let’s get it done,” he urged.