SACRAMENTO -- Governor Jerry Brown made a rare appearance before two legislative committees Monday in hopes of fast tracking a major roadway repair bill funded by an increase in the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon.
It was a proposal that stalled late last year. But this year Democrats hold a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature, meaning a tax increase could be passed without Republican votes.
“The roads are broken, and they’re getting worse, and they’re not going to get better unless you get a significant injection of money," Brown told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The measure would raise $5 billion a year for 10 years with supposed guarantees that the money would only be spent on transportation projects. Brown argued that the cost to repair long neglected highways and local roads would cost even more later.
But the Vice-Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Republican Vince Fong, said they had a plan that would fund repairs without a gas tax increase. It would require cuts in general fund spending, which Democrats are loath to do. But Fong said if transportation infrastructure was a priority then it should take priority over other kinds of general fund spending.
“It’s the largest gas tax in California history and disproportionately hurts low and middle-income families the most," said Fong.
Brown said as a practical matter, lawmakers would not vote to cut funding for colleges or to prisons. He touted it as a user tax...you use the roads, you pay for their repair. A long line of nearly 80 lobbyists representing labor, cities, counties and business groups like the California Chamber of Commerce stepped to a microphone to support the measure although some did so reluctantly.
Brown said now is the time to pass such a difficult tax measure because future governors were unlikely to sign such a bill.
“All the guys running for governor all want to be president so they’re not going want to raise taxes…I mean you got a guy who's going nowhere...I have no future, I only have a past," said Brown among chuckles from the audience.
The plan is to have a bill before both houses for a floor vote by Thursday and the governor to sign the bill perhaps before the legislative Easter break.