Three months after California began collecting additional gas taxes through the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB 1), officials have put dozens of road and bridge repair projects on the fast track — and motorists are noticing. Like those enjoying a smoother ride on the 605 Freeway between El Monte and West Covina, thanks to a recent $2.6-million resurfacing job.
Proponents of SB 1 hope that the benefits of construction activity on California highways will lead voters to reject a campaign to repeal the gas tax hike and save the $54 billion that SB 1 will generate during the next decade for the state’s badly neglected road system.
And President Trump may have offered further encouragement to California voters not to overturn SB 1 when he disclosed the details of his infrastructure plan. The plan has turned the federal grant process on its ear by focusing heavily on the ability of states to provide substantial matching funds to receive a share of federal money.
In the past, the feds often chipped in half or more of the money needed to build major projects like freeways. Instead, the Trump plan puts the onus on states and local governments to contribute about 80% of revenues for major projects, and to do so by coming up with new revenue sources. SB 1, California’s gas tax increase and vehicle license fee, appears to be exactly that type of new revenue.
But Republicans contend that the new tax is wasteful and are seeking to have it overturned on the November ballot via the efforts of a San Diego-based group called Reform California. Tax supporters, including SB 1 author Sen. Jim Beall, say the new funds may now be more valuable for the state than ever.
“The importance of SB 1 becomes more significant today because it can provide California with a much-needed source for the meager federal matching grants that are left on the table… I hope that resonates with voters,” Beall said.
Matt Cate of the California State Assn. of Counties agrees. “The proposed repeal of SB 1 would not only rob our state and local governments of vitally needed state funding, but now we learn that it could also hamper our ability to receive federal funding.”
Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said the approval of SB 1 in April let the department expand the number of projects funded this year and accelerated construction for dozens of repair jobs. “We are moving forward as quickly and as appropriately as possible to bring the transportation improvements to the people of California,” Dougherty said. “If the [repeal] referendum were successful, then that would terminate any of those future investments.”
A group called the Coalition to Protect Local Transportation Improvements has formed to oppose the anti-tax group, and Gov. Jerry Brown, in his State of the State address, vowed to be active in fighting the repeal effort. “I will do everything in my power to defeat any repeal effort that may make it to the ballot, you can count on that,” said Brown.
Southern California Partnership for Jobs supports infrastructure investment, public and private, particularly for transportation. It enhances our overall quality of life and supports individuals’ employment and their families’ well-being. We advocated for the passage of SB 1, a new transportation funding source that is becoming ever more critical for California. We continue to work closely with other advocates to seek funding at the state, regional and local levels.