If the hypocrisy and cynicism behind Republican efforts to repeal California’s gas tax increase aren’t enough to sway your opinion, then Ventura County next week will likely get yet another reason to oppose the GOP on this important issue:
Long-awaited funding for an Oxnard bridge that will save lives is set to be approved by the California Transportation Commission.
We did not take a position on the gas tax and vehicle registration fee increases approved last year by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown. We didn’t like the state’s past diversion of gas tax money to non-transportation purposes, but we were excited about the road improvements this new funding could bring. We also find it odd that when refiners raise gas prices by 12 cents a gallon for no apparent reason, few people complain, but heaven help us if the state does it — even for a good cause.
Well, word of that good cause arrived Tuesday in a Star report that the state Transportation Commission staff is recommending approval of $68.6 million to fully fund construction of a South Rice Avenue bridge over the railroad tracks near East Fifth Street. The money would come from the gas tax and registration increases, otherwise known as Senate Bill 1.
More than three years ago, an Arizona truck driver wanting to turn from Rice onto Fifth mistakenly turned onto the tracks that run parallel to Fifth. The truck got stuck on the rails, and minutes later a Metrolink commuter train hit it, derailed and partially flipped, killing train engineer Glenn Steele and injuring 32 others.
There was no lack of speculation and blame after the crash, but one thing was certain: If there had been a Rice Avenue bridge over those tracks, Glenn Steele would be alive today. So, too, might be the two men killed in 2014 when their vehicle slammed into a Metrolink train at the same intersection.
The bridge idea has been around since at least the 1990s, but the money hasn’t — until Senate Bill 1. You can argue about the timing of the new funding, coming just as SB1 opponents submitted signatures for a November ballot initiative to repeal the increases. You can blame Ventura County voters for rejecting transportation sales taxes that could have funded the bridge years ago. But the reality is the rail crossing is ranked the third most dangerous in the state, the money now exists to fix that, and construction could begin in 2020.
Thank you, SB1.
Here’s another reality: The November initiative is mainly a ploy by Republicans to get their base voters to the polls. Carl DeMaio, a leader of the SB1 repeal campaign, admitted as much in an email to supporters, the Los Angeles Times reported last week. “As you know, repealing the car and gas tax is the hottest issue in California and we want to make sure we use this ballot initiative as a way to draw Republicans and elect Republicans in the November election,” his memo said.
And another GOP reality: House Speaker Paul Ryan’s campaign committee gave $50,000 to repeal supporters, Majority Whip Steve Scalise gave $25,000 and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy donated a whopping $300,000.
And finally this: The Republicans in Congress decrying California’s gas tax are the same ones who voted for the GOP tax bill. SB1 will cost Californians about $5.2 billion a year. But the GOP’s “tax reform” could easily end up costing Californians much more than that, thanks to lost mortgage, state tax and other deductions.
We applaud the Ventura County Transportation Commission, city of Oxnard, Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin and all the others who have pushed for the Rice Avenue bridge — and hope their efforts aren’t undone by a fading political party’s desperate strategy.
Source: Ventura County Star
Photo: CONTRIBUTED IMAGE/VENTURA COUNTY TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION