Why isn't our road-tax money going anywhere?

by Senator Sen. Anthony Cannella
Monday, April 27, 2015

Anyone who drives on our roads knows we have a transportation infrastructure crisis in California. Even though we’re paying more in gas taxes and transportation fees than any other state, that money hasn’t been used to repair or maintain our streets, highways and other infrastructure projects.

There’s finally momentum in Sacramento to address this problem, and it’s about time.

California relies on our vast highway system every day, from commuters to parents taking their children to school to trucks delivering goods throughout our state and beyond. It is California’s lifeline, and Republicans and Democrats must work together on a bipartisan approach to begin addressing the crisis.

This lifeline, however, cannot drain the pockets of California’s working families.

Here’s what state Senate Republicans recommend.

Before proposing new transportation taxes and user fees, state legislators should closely examine how current taxes are being spent. Let’s make sure current funds approved for transportation are actually being spent on transportation projects. Further, any new transportation funding must be protected so it can only be spent to improve our roads, highways and bridges.

Gov. Jerry Brown emphasized the need for transportation funding in his 2015 State of the State speech, and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins released an initiative in February. Unfortunately, neither produced a plan that will actually provide the level of dedicated funding that will help fix our ailing system of roads and highways.

In 2002, 69 percent of voters passed Proposition 42, which thatpromised taxes or fees paid by drivers would be used for maintaining and expanding California’s transportation infrastructure. Since then, some transportation taxes have gone to the general fund instead of funding high-priority infrastructure projects – ignoring what Californians voted for.

Atkins’ plan correctly seeks to rededicate this funding stream to our roads, highways, and bridges, but she also proposes to divert a new tax to the general fund to backfill✔ the payments. Her proposed “road user charge,” which is yet to be fully defined, would generate $1.8 billion. But only $800 million would go toward transportation projects.

It’s time to end these budget tactics and commit to reducing the nearly $60 billion in deferred transportation maintenance.

California now has a revenue surplus and a rainy day reserve fund,; some of which should be dedicated to our transportation system. Further, any new or increased charges should not be levied until all previous transportation funding is actually directed to our roads.

My Republican colleagues and I look forward to working with legislative Democrats on a solution. That’s why we sent a letter to Gov.ernor Brown and Democratic leaders proposing that any solution must begin by honoring our commitment to the voters and ensuring that all existing transportation revenues be used for transportation projects.

This is what California voters were promised when they passed Proposition 42, and it is what they deserve today.