Fixing a gaping hole in California’s road repair budget

Road-workHow much will take to fix California’s crumbling roads and transportation infrastructure?

About $3.5 billion a year, indefinitely, according to Gov. Jerry Brown.

To pay for that, Brown is proposing an annual $65 fee on drivers, as well as increases in taxes on gas and diesel, a crackdown on polluters, and savings from a more efficient Caltrans.

The proposal comes two months after the governor called a special session of the state Legislature to deal with transportation issues. Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento still remain far apart on how to deal with an estimated $59 billion backlog in road and infrastructure repairs.CALTRANSWORK

The $65-dollar charge would generate an estimated $2 billion a year. Another $500 million would come from fees imposed on polluters, and $100 million more from savings that result from making Caltrans more efficient. The governor also wants to raise the diesel tax by 11 cents. It’s not immediately clear how much the gas tax would go up.

Any increase in taxes would require some Republican votes, but GOP lawmakers have been adamant about opposing new taxes. Party leaders say the governor’s proposal is unlikely to fly.

The plan does appear to have the support of most Democrats, as well as a coalition of business and labor organizations and local government groups.

Chris McKenzie of the League of California Cities says the state’s backlog of road maintenance is already far too long. He’s urging lawmakers to reach a compromise before the special session ends in a week.

Pothole“The real truth is we have fallen behind,” McKenzie says. “The state is facing a $58 billion deficit in the state highway system. Cities and counties are facing an even larger one, over $70 billion. And without any additional funds we’re going to fall further behind.”

Brown’s proposal provides a loose outline of how the money would be spent. It includes $1.6 billion each year for highway improvements, about a billion for local streets and roads, including bike lanes and sidewalks.