California has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to finally address a problem that has long plagued the state: a shortfall in transportation funding that has led to crumbling and congested roadways.
The root cause of the problem has been well documented. The gasoline tax, which has traditionally provided ample funding to fix roads, repair bridges and expand highway capacity, has not been raised in more than two decades. Combine that with vehicles that are more fuel efficient or that don’t use any gas at all, and the problem has compounded.
Last week, Governor Jerry Brown introduced a plan to raise the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon, increase vehicle registration fees and charge zero-emission vehicle drivers an annual $100 fee. All of this would raise an estimated $5 billion per year, which would be distributed to counties and cities that are strapped to fix their own roads.
Petaluma, which has some of the worst streets in the Bay Area, would stand to receive $1.3 million annually for street repair. Sonoma County would get $12.3 million to fix its crumbling rural road network.
About $2 billion annually would go to the state highway system, and Sonoma County should certainly have claim to some of those funds. Widening the Highway 101 bottleneck through Petaluma remains $85 million short. Even more daunting, Highway 37 could cost taxpayers billions of dollars to widen and elevate above expected sea level rise. Even with a proposed public-private partnership to rebuild a portion of Highway 37 and elevate it with a causeway, the entire route could use an infusion of the gas tax funds.
The transportation bill is not a panacea, however. The state’s transportation infrastructure is in such disrepair that this proposal, while helpful, will not completely do the job. There will still be future need for local transportation funding measures.
The funding proposal needs a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature to pass, which Democrats could do without any Republican support. This plan, however, requires that every Democrat falls in line, and some are on the fence.
Of Petaluma’s two state legislators, Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, is fully committed to this tax increase. In fact, he is a co-sponsor of the legislation, SB1. Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, did not immediately come out in favor of the proposal, saying he needed more time to read the legislation.
Levine’s vote is needed to pass SB1. The Petaluma City Council wrote Levine a letter encouraging him to vote in favor of the bill. Voters should tell him that this is an important piece of legislation, and one that he should support. Levine’s office can be reached at 916-319-2010, or firstname.lastname@example.org.