With the passage of Senate Bill 1 by the California legislature and the signature of Governor Brown, the road to fixing the state’s transportation systems just got a little bit smoother. Although no one likes to pay more taxes, fees, or whatever you want to call them, with half of California’s 196,000 miles of roads in ‘poor’ condition, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card, SB 1 was long overdue.
When fully implemented, SB 1, also known as the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, will generate about $5.2 billion per year to help repair, maintain, and improve California’s roads and bridges. That might sound like a lot, but the cities, counties and state face a $137 billion shortfall over the next decade to maintain our collective system of streets and highways.
Funding for the Road Repair and Accountability Act comes from a few different sources:
– Gasoline sales tax of $0.12 per gallon (effective November 2017)
– Diesel excise tax of $0.20 per gallon (effective November 2017), plus a 4% increase in diesel sales tax
– Vehicle License Fee increases of $25-$175 per vehicle, based on vehicle value (effective January 2018)
– Zero Emission Vehicle registration fee increase of $100 (effective July 2020)
A calculator found here will show you how much SB 1 will cost you each month. No matter though, it will be less than the $844 extra that each California motorist spends per year driving on roads in need of repair, according to the ASCE Report Card.
So now that we know how much this is going to cost us, let’s get down to the brass tacks of where the money will go. Over the next ten years, the Road Repair and Accountability Act will distribute monies through several means:
– $30 billion to street, road, highway maintenance and rehabilitation (split evenly between the state and local transportation agencies)
– $4 billion to bridge and culvert work
– $3 billion for high priority freight passages
– $7.5 billion for transit (capital expenditures and operations)
– $2 billion for local partnerships (e.g., Self-Help Counties – more on that later)
– $2.5 billion for congested corridor relief
– $1 billion for active transportation projects
– Another $2.2 billion for a variety of other projects and programs such as research, planning, pre-apprenticeship and more. You can find all the expenditures here.
Although California’s legislature took the political risk to pass SB 1, last fall, voters in several counties made the personal decision to tax themselves in order to improve their local transportation systems. In all, six counties created a new self-help sales tax or added to its existing tax. The new self-help counties are Monterey, Merced, Santa Cruz and Stanislaus while the voters in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties agreed to increase their existing transportation sales tax by an additional ½ cent.
What’s great about these super-majority approved taxes is that the money cannot be used for any other purposes or be raided to prop up a county’s general fund.
These new, locally approved measures will generate nearly another $1.7 billion per year, based on the individual counties’ expenditure plans. The taxes from these new self-help measures started to be collected on April 1st of this year, so the chances to see the benefits of their passage should be in the near term.
Between the state and counties, there will be $6.8 billion of new road improvement and repair funds headed to the streets and highways of California. $6.8 billion creates a lot of projects and jobs. In fact, that’s enough to create more than 88,000 jobs – based on a 2011 study by the White House Council of Economic Advisors that estimates for every $1 billion spent on highway infrastructure 13,000 jobs are created.
By the way, voters in several other counties came close to passing new transportation sales taxes, but the 2/3 threshold required by California’s constitution is a tough hill to climb. Measures B and X would have supplemented the existing self-help taxes for Sacramento (65.7%) and Contra Costa (63.5%). While the aspiring counties of Placer (Measure M) and San Luis Obispo (Measure J) garnered 63.8% and 66.3% of the vote respectively. Measure J lost by less than 500 votes! An additional eight other county transportation sales tax measures were on the ballots in November and seven of them received majority approval.
By those numbers, it seems pretty obvious that the people of California are willing to pay to keep the roads and other public facilities that have already been built operating effectively and efficiently as possible.
But California needs to figure out a better, more systematic way to address the funding gaps confronting all of its infrastructure needs because the state’s problems go beyond road repair. In fact, the most recent ASCE California Report Card (2012) gives the state’s infrastructure a “C” rating. Although that is better than America’s “D+” from the 2017 report, California’s population is expected to increase another 20% by 2032, to 48 million, further straining the state’s infrastructure.
According to ASCE, here are some of the challenges that California is facing:
– $44 billion in clean water needs over the next 20 years
– $26 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs
– 1,388 structurally deficient bridges
– 678 high-hazard dams
– 9,500 miles of levees to maintain
Although these numbers may seem daunting, partnerships are forming to address the problems. Fix Our Roads is a coalition of business, local government, labor, and transportation agencies that fought hard for the passage of SB 1. Likewise, the Clean Water and Jobs for California is an alliance that has organized to educate Californians about the need to invest in the state’s water system to grow jobs and protect the economy.
The passage of SB 1 and the recent local transportation voter initiatives along with the new coalitions have helped to put California on the right track, but we’ve got a long way to go – in terms of public awareness and funding. Quite simply, there are three choices. Continue to underfund our infrastructure needs, pay now to get our existing public infrastructure systems in good working order, or pay a lot more the next time disaster strikes.
Let’s not wait. Let’s fix it before it fails. The last thing that anyone wants is another catastrophe similar to the Oroville Dam.