California lawmakers approve $52 billion tax increase for roads

A planned vote late Thursday in the Assembly was to follow approval earlier in the Senate. The tax which would generate $52 billion for infrastructure work.|

California lawmakers late Thursday narrowly approved the largest infrastructure funding package in a generation - a $52 billion tax-and-spend transportation plan that is set to pump millions of dollars a year into repair of the North Coast’s battered network of roads, highways and bridges.

The legislation, backed by Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown, cleared the state Assembly with 54 votes, the exact number needed to the meet the two-thirds requirement. It passed the Senate 27-11 earlier in the night.

Supporters hailed the outcome, with state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, calling it a “long overdue step.”

“Advancing a tax increase is never easy, especially for California residents who have to foot the bill. But we have a transportation funding crisis,” McGuire said.

The outcome of the high-stakes legislation came down to the wire, with several North Coast lawmakers whose votes were crucial to the outcome coming out in support of the legislation during a late-night session on the state Assembly floor.

That included Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, who as of 4 p.m. Thursday still had not announced which way he was planning to vote.

At 9:20 p.m., Levine told his Assembly colleagues he was supporting the bill because “to maintain California’s economic leadership, we must invest in crumbling infrastructure.”

Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, also came out in support of the legislation, despite raising doubts about the extent to which the revenue will benefit his district, which spans Santa Rosa to the Oregon border.

Wood said many of the more rural areas of his district lack reliable access to broadband internet or cellphone service. A traffic jam, he said, is “three or four cars” at a stoplight.

Wood said he was voting for the transportation funding bill out of the “greater good,” while promising to keep reminding his colleagues that he will continue prodding them to not “ignore rural California.”

Earlier in the evening, both chambers passed a measure that would ensure funds generated from a proposed tax and fee hike will be used only for transportation.

All the while, Gov. Brown and legislative leaders were brokering deals worth millions of dollars to the districts of some holdout legislators.

“All sides are working overtime,” said McGuire, who described marathon negotiations in the days and hours leading up to the vote.

Senate Bill 1 will generate $5.2 billion annually over 10 years by raising the base gasoline excise tax by 12 cents, assessing a transportation improvement fee based on the value of vehicles, and increasing diesel excise and sales taxes.

Supporters called the legislation a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address California’s deferred maintenance backlog for streets and highways, which prior to winter storms added up to $135 billion.

Sonoma County officials estimate the 10-year cost of rehabilitating and maintaining roads to acceptable standards at $560 million.

But several lawmakers were hesitant about staking political capital or maybe even their careers to support what critics labeled as the largest gas tax increase in state history - one that, when combined with higher license fees, would cost motorists on average an additional $150 a year.

Republicans were virtually united in their opposition to the bill.

Levine was among the skeptics.

A day earlier, Levine outlined concerns with the legislation ranging from the speed with which lawmakers were asked to analyze and vote on the bill to its exemption from the California Administrative Procedure Act, which gives the public an opportunity to participate in the adoption of new state regulations.

“It’s not lost on me that Sonoma County roads are in bad shape,” Levine said.

But he said the state’s lawmakers also “need to protect the public from back-room deals done in the dark.”

Levine said in announcing his support for the bill that Brown had assured him he would address Levine’s concerns about the public having input on the crafting ?of regulations.

“With that promise from the governor, we will have something that will protect the investment we are making,” Levine said.

Sonoma County will get about $20 million annually over a decade for road repairs under the legislation. Mendocino County will receive $5.6 million a year and Lake County $3.8 million, according to McGuire.

Of that amount for Sonoma County, about $12.3 million would be available for use in unincorporated areas.

The rest - roughly $7.8 million - would be divvied up among Sonoma County cities according to size, with Santa Rosa projected to get nearly $4 million annually, followed by Petaluma ($1.4 million) and Rohnert Park ($940,000).

Other members of the North Coast’s legislative delegation backed the bill from the start.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, said the bill represented a rare opportunity to address the state’s and the North Coast’s infrastructure needs.

“If we don’t do it now, I don’t know when we’ll do it again,” he said.

Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, also supported the legislation.

Her district encompasses Lake and Napa counties, most of Yolo County and parts of Sonoma County.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or ?On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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