Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), left, Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) were the forces pushing for a new transportation funding bill. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Patrick McGreevy, Melanie Mason and John Myers
April 9 , 2017

In one of the biggest legislative victories of his storied political career, Gov. Jerry Brown pushed through an ambitious plan last week that will increase gas taxes and vehicle fees to raise $52 billion over the next decade for the repair of California’s system of crumbling roads, highways and bridges.

But the win didn’t come cheaply — Brown and legislative dealers promised nearly $1 billion for the pet projects of lawmakers who had been sitting on the fence before they were persuaded to vote for the bill.

The funding “arrangements,” as Brown called them, helped the governor and legislators break a two-year Sacramento stalemate on transportation funding.

Some legislators said the horse-trading taints the legislative process, but Brown defended the deals as justified, a moderate investment compared with the payoff of a bill that will generate $5.2 billion annually in the first 10 years for road repairs, and billions more in future years.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as big as this particular transportation bill,” Brown told reporters after the vote late Thursday night. “So I would say some of the arrangements that were entailed in this process, they may look large, but relative to $52 billion, it’s all pretty modest.”

Republican leaders said the deals were unseemly and set a bad precedent.

“Democrats just gave us the largest gas tax increase in state history — a deal so bad they needed $1 billion in pork to buy the votes to pass it,” said Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley. “California deserves better.”

The bill, approved by two-thirds votes of the Senate and Assembly on Thursday, raises the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon, boosts diesel taxes and creates a new annual fee when cars and trucks are registered.

Similar proposals have languished for years, but Brown and legislative leaders set a quick-turn April 6 deadline for action, hoping to pressure a compromise before the Legislature’s spring break — ahead of big debates to come in 2017 on the state budget and hundreds of bills.

The side deals, which still require legislative approval, showed up in two changes to the budget bill language, with most of it made public at 4 a.m. on the day of the vote.

The biggest concession made was a $500-million budget allocation for pet projects helping the districts of state Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) and Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced), both of whom held out support for the bill until the day before the vote.

Cannella’s vote proved critical. Although Democrats enjoy a supermajority in both houses, Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) voted against the bill, citing opposition from his constituents and a concern that the bill could have been better crafted, leaving it one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

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