Capitol Alert
By Taryn Luna and Alexei Koseff
tluna@sacbee.com
April 6, 2017 – 7:00 PM

The state Legislature on Thursday passed a sweeping $52 billion transportation plan that will raise California gas taxes after leaders struck deals with wavering lawmakers to fund road projects in their districts.

The state Senate voted 27-11 and the state Assembly voted 54-26 – the bare minimum two-thirds margins required for a tax increase. The votes took place shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown met with Senate Democrats behind closed doors during a recess from the floor session.

The legislation will raise the money to pay for the plan over 10 years. It raises the base gasoline excise tax by 12 cents, creates a transportation improvement fee based on the value of a vehicle and raises diesel excise and sales taxes.

“This bill will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs for poor people who need work and it will stimulate the economy,” said Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who introduced Senate Bill 1. “For me, this is a wise plan that’s a modest plan.”

Republican lawmakers criticized the deal for putting a burden on ordinary Californians to pick up the bill for the Legislature’s failure to prioritize spending on roads without raising taxes.

“This institution is sick,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City. “You have to be drunk to support this measure tonight – drunk on the power that is ruining this institution, and that is making it harder and harder to live in this state.”

Brown and Democratic legislative leaders estimate that SB 1’s higher fuel taxes and fees would increase costs for the average motorist by about $10 a month.

They set Thursday as a self-imposed deadline to pass what would be the largest road deal in California in more than a quarter century, widely cast as the first true test of Democrats’ ability to use a two-thirds majority in both houses they won in the November election.

“I’m energized and doing everything I can to make sure California climbs out of this big hole,” Brown told reporters outside the Capitol early in the day.

But by afternoon, it remained uncertain whether Democrats would be able to rally votes to pass the bill. They were having particular difficulty with members representing districts that can shift parties depending on the election because the measure contains a gas tax increase.

Lawmakers began crafting a separate measure outlining spending for individual legislative districts, Senate Bill 132. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León said the projects would have been funded anyway, but the bill moves them up in the “queue.”

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