Local

California seeks solutions as fuel-efficiency, declining gas tax make it harder to fix roads

File: Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks as U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and state and city officials listen on an industrial street with broken pavement at a news conference with with the Sixth Street bridge in the background on October 27, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.
File: Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks as U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and state and city officials listen on an industrial street with broken pavement at a news conference with with the Sixth Street bridge in the background on October 27, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Listen to story

00:49
Download this story 0MB

California state legislators return to Sacramento Monday for the final stretch of this year's session with an agenda heavy on transportation issues.

A special session of both houses is still considering how to close a $59 billion funding gap for repairing California roads and bridges. Governor Jerry Brown called the session to give special attention to funding the state's long-range transportation infrastructure needs.

The session met just once before going on summer recess in July. As it reconvenes this week, members will present dueling proposals to fill the gap.

Democrats want to raise revenue by hiking the gas tax and other fees for drivers. Republicans are looking to divert funds from other pots of money, including the controversial high speed rail project. They're also looking to revenues from the state's "cap and trade" market, intended to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gases.

"There's a lot of thorny issues to iron out in a lot of these proposals," said Dario Frommer, a member of the state's Transportation Commission, which needs those funds for transportation projects.

He worries that with less than a month to go it will be difficult to find consensus.

"The big question here is 'can we get business, labor and Democrats and Republicans aligned on an approach?'," he said.

Central to the problem are diminishing returns from the state's gas tax as cars become more efficient, a problem that would be compounded even further if State Bill 350 moves forward,

Introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, SB 350 sets ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gases, including requiring Californians to cut their gasoline use by half in the next 15 years.

The bill has already passed the Senate and will be making its way through the state Assembly in coming weeks.