Capitol Alert
By Jim Miller, Christopher Cadelago and Taryn Luna
April 8, 2017 – 12:01 AM

California drivers will begin paying 12 cents per gallon more in gas taxes later this year, the first of several tax and fee hikes contained in this week’s road-funding bill that eventually will cost the average motorist about $120 a year.

It wasn’t the sort of vote any politician likes to cast. So the measure’s success on Thursday relied on a collection of eleventh-hour sweeteners offered by Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders to reach the necessary two-thirds super-majority.

Now that the dust has settled, it’s clear they doled out nearly $1 billion in district-specific transportation projects, with a popular commuter train system linking the valley and Bay Area headed to new locales. It also appears architects could get legal indemnity in construction lawsuits, and four Riverside County cities could see a budget boost.

54-26 Assembly vote to approve Senate Bill 1

27-11 State Senate vote to approve Senate Bill 1

Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, said some supporters of the measure, Senate Bill 1, had been “bought off.”

“When was the last time any member of the Legislature got $10 million, let alone $427 million for one group of legislators, and $500 million for another group of legislators?” asked Mayes after the Assembly sent the measure to Brown. “If the goal that we have in the Legislature is to represent all of California, then our goal shouldn’t be, ‘Hey, I’m gonna get my pet project for my district at the expense of someone else.’ ”

California’s Constitution says this: “A person who seeks to influence the vote or action of a member of the Legislature in the member’s legislative capacity by bribery, promise of reward, intimidation, or other dishonest means, or a member of the Legislature so influenced, is guilty of a felony.”

The section rarely results in prosecutions at the Capitol. Prosecutors aren’t likely to get involved unless a lawmaker benefits personally from voting for a bill, such as by receiving cash bribes or campaign contributions, experts in political law say.

“They’re looking for the big score – a bribery case,” said attorney Richard Pio Roda, who helps train local elected officials on ethics laws. “It’s a matter of resources for them.”

Still, the line between illegal vote-trading and the legal give-and-take of the legislative process can be a fine one.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said “vote-trading never happens, but vote-trading always happens.”

“Politicians have to be able to compromise and to come to consensus. And I’m certain that part of that is, `You help me and I’ll help you,’ ” she said. “But you’ll rarely have that e-mail where someone says ‘I’ll vote for this if you vote for that.’ ”

Brown, who says he will sign the measure when lawmakers return from their spring recess, was unapologetic. Asked about the deal-cutting following the vote, Brown told reporters that all of the money was being spent on worthwhile projects.

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