By Jessica Calefati
Posted: 05/24/2015 – 06:13:21 AM PDT
Updated: 05/25/2015 07:14:59 AM PDT

SACRAMENTO — Since taking office in 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown has helped to resolve some of California’s toughest fiscal challenges — mainly huge structural deficits and old, forgotten debts.

But this year he appears ready to take on Mission Impossible — getting Democrats and Republicans to agree to increase the state’s gas tax to fix California’s crumbling roads and bridges.

Hiking the gas tax has always been politically risky, especially in a state where cars are still king and that -gave birth to the anti-tax revolution in the late ’70s.

But hell might be about to freeze over: For the first time in decades, even anti-tax Republicans are open to raising prices at the pump to start cutting into the state’s $59 billion backlog of roadway maintenance.

“We’re talking about taking some difficult votes,” said Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, the vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “We’re going to get one bite at the apple, and I hope we get it right.”

Brown had telegraphed his intention to take up the issue in his January inaugural address when he asked Democrats and Republicans to do the “impossible” and craft an agreement to improve transportation infrastructure.

“There are many things voters appreciate that aren’t sexy, and this is one of them,” said David McCuan, a political expert at Sonoma State University. “Brown knows we’ve got to get this done.”

As the condition of the pavement worsens and the price to repair it grows, ideas that seemed outlandish a few years ago are back on the table, including a plan by a San Jose lawmaker that would raise vehicle license and registration fees as well as the gas tax.

California’s underfunding of roadway maintenance is nothing new. Over the past decade, the state has used most of its transportation funding on widening roadways — which reduces traffic jams — and road projects that expedite commercial shipping.

But that left little to tackle potholes and other routine repairs.

And as cars become more fuel efficient and many drivers switch to hybrid or electric vehicles, revenue generated by the state’s 48.6-cent gas tax — the backbone of the state’s transportation budget — has dwindled. Current gas tax revenue covers only a quarter of the state’s annual highway repair needs. And the gas tax — now the second highest in the nation, after Pennsylvania — is set to go down 6 cents in July.

Since hybrid and electric vehicle owners pay little to nothing for their use of the state’s roadways, some have suggested charging them a fee for each mile they drive. So far, the idea hasn’t gotten much traction because it raises tough questions about how to track miles driven without invading a driver’s privacy.

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