Brown in SoCal to Push for Gas Tax Hike for Road Repairs

Gov. Jerry Brown joined state and local representatives in Riverside Tuesday to drum up support for legislation that would hike gasoline taxes and vehicle license fees to pay for road repairs, insisting that there are no alternatives but for motorists to foot the bill.

"I don't know what opponents expect -- the tooth fairy to fix the roads?" Brown said during a news briefing in North Park, where he was flanked by a bevy of applauding transportation workers. "Our roads are deteriorating from years of inaction. We've gotten into a hole we can't climb out of (without taxes). We'll fix our infrastructure with SB 1. It's a helluva good deal."

Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair & Accountability Act of 2017, would trigger a 20-cent per gallon increase in diesel taxes, a 12-cent per gallon hike in gas taxes and a 5.75 percent increase in diesel sales taxes, as well as higher vehicle license fees -- up an average $38 per vehicle.

The pump price hikes would translate to roughly $10 in additional costs borne by drivers each month, according to the governor's office, which touted the estimated $5.2 billion in annual revenue that would be generated under the legislation. The bill could come to a vote as early as Thursday.

The governor was asked about unified Republican opposition to the bill and several Inland Empire GOP lawmakers' calls for him to axe the over-budget High Speed Rail Project, as well as cut more than 3,000 Caltrans positions identified in a report last year as redundant, to save funds that could be used for transportation infrastructure improvements.

"Things are not going to get better without more money," Brown replied. "Caltrans has been cutting jobs every year since I've been in office. The opposition just wants to fight taxes. But you've got to pay if you want to fix. If you don't pay now, you're going to pay for it later."

During part of his briefing to reporters, the governor was interrupted by protesters standing on the outer perimeter of the park, shouting, "No new taxes!" and "Stop the train!" The governor was flanked by Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-South Gate, Riverside County Supervisors John Tavaglione and Chuck Washington, along with leaders from several civic organizations and union shops.

"It's time for legislators to put their re-election goals aside and do what's right -- support this tax measure for the sake of future generations," Tavaglione said.

Rendon decried the fact that funds for road repairs were "drying up."

"Our roads suck," the speaker said. "SB 1 is a responsible solution, and it does not involve borrowing."

De Leon hailed the bill as "the Senate's largest (proposed) investment to fix roads."

"This will put people back to work and help them reach the middle class," he said, quipping that "even Trump supporters will find jobs" fixing roads as a result of SB 1.

"If we do nothing, it's going to cost us much more money on the back end," de Leon said. He and others pointed to figures indicating that patchwork maintenance of roads can cost up to eight times more than long-term repairs.

The Senate president, governor and others insisted that there was "no time" to waste in making SB 1 law. The bill requires a two-thirds vote to pass the Legislature, and with Republican lawmakers throughout the state aligned against the measure, a few Democratic votes in opposition could scotch its chances of reaching the governor's desk.

Among Inland Empire lawmakers, Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, has come out against it, along with Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Palm Desert, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, and Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Beaumont. Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Indio, has vowed to join Medina in supporting the proposal. Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, D-Corona, said she is undecided.

The California Trucking Association on Monday issued a statement in support of the bill, hailing it as an "infrastructure package that will fix our roads, make vital upgrades to our freight system and protect the $200 million a year truckers invest in the cleanest, most efficient equipment available."

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has railed against the gas tax package, saying it's the product of tax-and-spend "Sacramento politicians and special interests."

"The state collects one of the highest gas taxes in the nation, but do they spend it all on roads and highways? No," HJTA Director Jon Coupal said Sunday. "Much of the money we pay in car taxes, truck fees and gas taxes is diverted. So, a gas and car tax increase means we would be paying twice for the same service."

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