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Don’t halt road repair progress

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There is good news for Petaluma drivers. The street repair crews you will be seeing around Petaluma this summer are beginning to chip away at the multi-million dollar backlog in repairs to the city’s street network that is among the worst in the Bay Area.

Petaluma recently launched a project to pave 21 of the worst streets in the city with your tax dollars. Exactly which tax dollars, however, derives from a complicated formula.

Much of the city’s pavement funding comes from a countrywide sales tax, Measure M, and traditional state gas tax, which until last year hadn’t been raised in more than two decades.

This year, however, Petaluma received an influx of $300,000 from SB1, an increase to the state gas tax which was approved by the legislature last year. SB1 added a 12-cents per gallon tax and increased vehicle registration fees on electric cars. Importantly, the legislation also sensibly mandated that the gas tax be indexed to the cost of inflation. This way, as the cost of repairing roads increases, so too does the funding to get the job done.

Next year, the city’s share of SB1 money is expected to increase to $1 million, which is equal to the total cost of Petaluma’s current road paving project. But take the term “expected” with a grain of salt since local officials can’t reliably count on any funding after this November. That is because of a recently-qualified state ballot proposition in November asking voters to repeal SB1 and thereby cancel out the billions of gas tax dollars the state is forecast to collect.

Many view the referendum as a cynical ploy by California Republican Party leaders to turn out voters in a gubernatorial election in which they are expected to lose handily. John Cox, the Republican candidate for governor, is a strong opponent of the new gas tax and has largely tied his campaign to its repeal.

But if the tax is repealed, then the state’s already worrisome infrastructure woes will continue for many years to come.

SB1 is the best chance we have to repair roads and improve our congested highways. Just this spring, Sonoma County was awarded $85 million from SB1 to widen Highway 101 through Petaluma, allowing construction of an underpass for the long-awaited Rainier crosstown connector. That money would dry up if voters repeal SB1.

The millions of gas tax dollars that local jurisdictions like Petaluma are now depending on for street repairs would also disappear.

Petaluma residents have long bemoaned the dilapidated state of our street network. The city tried to pass a sales tax measure that would have funded a comprehensive road repair project, but that failed in 2014 and didn’t have the support to make it on the 2016 ballot. Talk of a 2018 sales tax measure in Petaluma has similarly fizzled.

Even though the new state gas tax is not enough to completely fix Petaluma’s pathetic pavement, it can and will fund the repair of some of our local roads.

This summer, slow down in the construction zones around the city and give the workers space to do their job of fixing the streets. And this fall, remember to vote against the gas tax repeal, and thereby ensure that the city retains the very limited tax revenue needed to fix more city streets in the future.