Pothole

A backlog of highway repairs is just one of the funding challenges that have state lawmakers looking for new revenue sources. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

By Chris Megerian and Patrick McGreevy
August 15, 2015

Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers will start tackling some of the state’s toughest challenges this week, and the solution to many of them may be new taxes and fees for Californians.

The Capitol’s ruling Democrats want to hit up residents and businesses for billions of dollars as they seek new ways to fund public healthcare, subsidize construction of affordable housing and pay for road repairs.

Proposals on the table include an extra $2 per pack on cigarettes, to increase payments to doctors who serve poor patients; an expanded tax on health insurers to help fund assistance for the elderly and disabled; and a new fee on real estate transactions to finance homes for low-income Californians.

Also possible are taxes and fees that Democrats say are needed to fill potholes around the state. Options include a new fee for owners of electric cars, a higher tax on gasoline and steeper charges for registering vehicles.

The stack of tax legislation is being considered even as state finances rebound from the recession with billions of dollars in higher-than-expected revenue.

“It’s a significant task to convince voters that you’ve made the right decision to increase taxes when revenue is already increasing,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a public policy professor at USC.

State Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) promised that lawmakers would scrutinize revenue proposals carefully.

“We have to make sure we provide the taxpayers of California maximum value and stretch their dollar,” he said.

Boosting taxes and fees is never a sure thing in the Capitol, largely because support from Republicans is needed for the required two-thirds vote in the Legislature. Some GOP lawmakers already have expressed skepticism or opposition.

“I don’t think there will be any interest in raising taxes any further,” said Assembly GOP leader Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto).

Brown, for his part, has left the door open. His approach has changed since his previous term, when he promised to give voters the final say on tax proposals even though their assent is not required by law.

“Everything is on the table,” said Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for Brown.

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