Will Senate Bill 1 Fix California's Potholes?

The number of bills California legislators crank out each year is astounding.  One would think California residents were in need of guidance for every aspect of their lives.  Therefore, we at the Nine-County Coalition focus on bills that might carry the potential of fueling the kind of central planning exemplified by Plan Bay Area.  Most likely, such bills will include “housing” and/or “transportation” in their titles, and call for “sustainable communities,” “complete streets,” or other vocabulary of central planning.

Obviously, unless California chooses to administer its infrastructure exclusively with private funds – a heretical thought – provision for the collection and manner of collection of taxes to fund ports, state highways, roads, and streets is necessary.  However, residents might do well to keep an eye on what exactly their government representatives are enacting to accomplish funding objectives.

California Senate Bill 1, introduced by Senator Jim Beall and now pending in the Appropriations Committee, significantly revises California’s transportation funding system. Here are a few highlights that might be of interest. 

SB 1 Does the Following:

*  Creates the Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Program, into whose funding account various funds would be deposited.

*  Requires the California Transportation Commission to adopt specified performance criteria.

*  Sets aside $200 million annually to be available to local jurisdictions that have passed or imposed transportation taxes or fees.

*  Allocates $80 million annually to the state Highway Account.

*  Allocates $2 million annually to the California State University for transportation research and education.

*  Removes the California Transportation Commission from the Transportation Agency, and established it an entity of state government required to perform an oversight role.

*  Creates the Office of the Transportation Inspector General as an entity of state government to ensure that all agencies spending state transportation funds operate efficiently. The Inspector General would be appointed by the Governor for a 6-year term subject to confirmation by the Senate.

*  Requires that the Department of Transportation “update the Highway Design Manual to incorporate the “complete streets” design concept by January 1, 2018.

 *  Establishes until January 1, 2023, the Advance Mitigation Program and the Advance Mitigation Fund in the Department of Transportation, which will receive $30 million annually from the Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Program. The bill would authorize the Department of Transportation to undertake specified mitigation measures in advance of construction of planned transportation improvements.

*  Authorizes the Department of Transportation where a regional conservation framework has been approved by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to, “Acquire, restore, manage, monitor, and preserve lands, waterways, aquatic resources, or fisheries, or fund the acquisition, restoration, management, monitoring, and preservation of lands, waterways, aquatic resources, or fisheries that would measurably advance a conservation objective in the regional conservation investment strategy if the department concludes that the action or actions could conserve or create environmental values that are appropriate to mitigate the anticipated potential impacts of planned transportation improvements.”

SB1 Creates the Following Funding Sources:

*  $0.12 per gallon increase on sale of gasoline, staggered over three years.

*  4% increase in the sales and use tax on diesel fuel, to be adjusted by the rate of the CA CPI.

*  $38 increase in annual vehicle registration fees, adjusted by the CPI.

*  A new $100 annual vehicle registration fee, adjusted by the CPI, applicable to zero-emission motor vehicles.

Some Good Some Bad

California’s per capita spending on transportation could use improvement, and SB 1 is very specific on what it creates, what it will do, and where money is coming from.

The discouraging part is that the bill indicates that “a funding program will help address a portion of the maintenance backlog on the state’s road system.”  How small a portion one might ask. 

The cautionary part is the establishment of funding for mitigation of possible environmental degradation in anticipation of transportation projects.  The question might come to mind how far in advance of the initiation of projects are mitigation efforts to be made!  How much of these now funded mitigation efforts will include land purchases and easements? 

Although the bill says that increased revenues will be directed to “the state’s highest transportation needs,” transportation needs these days include a lot more than reliable buses and pothole-free highways, as exemplified by BART going into the  “transit villages” business.  Therefore, it behooves residents to remain vigilant to prevent special interests from unduly influencing where the money goes.