California motorists will pay an extra 12 cents a gallon in gasoline taxes, and 20 cents for diesel fuel, beginning Nov. 1, barring a referendum.
The taxes are part of a funding plan that’s expected to pump a little more than $5 billion a year into road repairs and transit programs over the coming decade.
Even that isn’t enough to cover the maintenance backlog for state highways and local roads.
No one can credibly argue that the state’s roads are in good shape, but the tax hike — the first in a generation — still ignited a political brawl that’s continuing with a proposed referendum and a recall targeting an Orange County senator who voted for higher taxes.
One often-repeated opposition argument was that the increased taxes won’t raise enough money to restore all of the state’s roads and bridges to good condition.
As if letting them deteriorate further was a better option.
Still, it’s true that more money is needed to complete the job. And the job needs to be completed or California’s economy will suffer.
Will that happen? President Donald Trump promised a big infrastructure plan, but he has yet to get any major legislation through Congress. So it may come down to whether voters trust their local governments, or are simply fed up enough with traffic jams and potholes, to dig even deeper.
Here in Sonoma County, voters approved Measure M in 2004, creating a quarter-cent sales tax for road repairs and upgrades. With a dedicated source of local revenue, Sonoma County was able to leverage additional dollars from Sacramento and Washington to widen Highway 101 to six lanes from Windsor to Petaluma.
Measure M also has paid for, among other things, improvement along Highway 12 in the Sonoma Valley, a new bridge on Porter Creek Road northeast of Santa Rosa and expanded road maintenance programs for the county and all nine cities. Smaller pots of money were set aside for SMART, buses and bike paths.
Measure M expires in 2024, and much of the remaining revenue is earmarked to repay money borrowed to complete Highway 101 and other projects.
It’s likely that Sonoma County voters will be asked to renew the transportation sales tax next year, either in June or November, to provide ongoing funding for local road repairs and, presumably, to finish the job on Highway 101, closing a three-mile gap in Petaluma so that there will be six lanes all the way from Windsor to the Marin County line.
And, as Staff Writer Guy Kovner reported a week ago, a second transportation funding measure may be presented to Bay Area voters next year.
That one would raise tolls on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and six other state-owned bridges around the bay to $8, which would generate an estimated $5 billion over 25 years. Of that, $580 million would be earmarked for projects in Sonoma and Marin counties, including widening Highway 101 through the Novato Narrows, extending SMART to Windsor and elevating flood-prone stretches of Highway 37 across the top of San Pablo Bay.
A competing plan would convert Highway 37 into a private road from Vallejo to Sears Point, with tolls paying for elevation and additional lanes.