Vote nears for California gas tax, fee hike for road repairs

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California lawmakers were scheduled to vote Thursday on Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed $5 billion increase in taxes and fees that would fund major road repairs.

The governor and top legislative leaders pressed all week to convince their fellow Democrats to support the measure but faced mounting opposition from environmentalists and anti-tax crusaders.

Unless he can convince a handful of Republicans to break ranks, Brown will need near universal support from Democrats to muster the two-thirds supermajority required to raise taxes.

Brown implored lawmakers Wednesday to find the courage to approve a tax hike, warning that roads will continue to deteriorate.

"You've got to do it now," Brown said in a rally on the Capitol steps Wednesday. "And if you don't do it, it gets more expensive next year and the year after."

Republicans have blasted the plan to ask for more money from taxpayers in a state that already has a high tax burden. Some have questioned why the state would raise taxes to repair its existing infrastructure without adding more lanes of traffic as the state's population swells.

"You've got people who are stuck in traffic, and yet this new $5 billion in taxes isn't going to solve any of those problems," said Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley.

Republicans say the state can fund road repairs with existing funds — an idea Democrats say would require cuts to education and social services that they're unwilling to make.

The governor visited a closed-door meeting of Assembly Democrats trying to round up support.

His pleas capped a week of cajoling and prodding lawmakers. He held rallies in the districts of undecided legislators and made unusual appearances before two legislative committees.

Contractors and construction unions blanketed television, radio and social media with ads promoting the plan, some targeting lawmakers still on the fence. The ads cost about $1 million, said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the Fix Our Roads Coalition.

The proposal aims to address a $59 billion backlog in deferred maintenance on state highways and $78 billion on local streets and roads. It's projected to raise $52.4 billion over 10 years, much of it to fix potholes and repair bridges but some for public transit and biking and walking trails.

It would raise gas taxes by 12 cents a gallon — a 43 percent increase — and diesel taxes from 16 cents per gallon to 36 cents. Diesel sales taxes would also rise.

Drivers would also face a new annual fee to be paid with their vehicle registration, ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the value of their vehicle. The taxes and fees would rise each year with inflation.

To win support from truckers, who face a big increase in taxes, Brown and legislative leaders agreed to restrict future regulations on greenhouse gas emissions related to commercial trucks.

An association representing the state's 35 air pollution control districts sent a letter to lawmakers saying the bill could impede regulations that indirectly affect truckers, such as restrictions on emissions at ports, warehouses, railyards and airports.

The bill, SB1, is the first major legislation that must comply with an initiative approved last year by voters that requires lawmakers to publish legislation for 72 hours before voting on it.

The push for approval created a sense of urgency barely a week after Brown released the negotiated proposal alongside Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles.

While the agreement was only released last week, the idea of raising gas taxes and vehicle fees has been the subject of discussion for months, said Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat who has been working on the transportation bill for two years.

"I don't think it's some kind of new proposal," he said.

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