California has a plan to fix its crumbling infrastructure.
The legislature approved late Thursday its first increase in the gas tax in 23 years. Along with increased vehicle fees, it’ll raise $5.2 billion a year to repair the state’s roads, highways and bridges.
Gov. Jerry Brown pushed the bill, SB 1, whipping votes from the Democratic supermajority against unanimous Republican opposition.
The gas tax will increase 12 cents per gallon, bringing it to 30 cents. The excise tax on diesel fuel would go up by 20 cents per gallon and electric cars would be charged a $100 annual fee. The bill also creates an annual vehicle fee ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the car’s value.
Sen. Ben Hueso and Sen. Toni Atkins, both Democrats, supported the bill – Atkins said it could bring San Diego roughly $400 million in transportation funding annually.
“This will improve our quality of life and our economy, and will create tens of thousands of additional jobs in our region during the next decade,” she said.
Fifty percent of the money for public transit would go to transportation planning agencies and improvements to highly-traveled corridors, potentially helping SANDAG with its revenue shortfall. Highway widening and related improvements to I-5, called the North Coast Corridor project, were specifically included in the list.
Sen. Joel Anderson and Sen. Patricia Bates, both Republicans, opposed the bill.
“I refuse to accept the default solution is always to raise taxes and in this case, on those who can least afford it,” Anderson said before the vote. “Gas and vehicle taxes hit lower income families the hardest and ordinary Californians shouldn’t have to pay for the legislature’s policy failures.”
Bates said too little of the plan would go to traffic relief or lane expansion and the bill didn’t stop funds from being diverted to other causes.
“That is a bad deal for drivers in urban areas such as San Diego who have to travel long distances to get to work,” Bates said. “Californians are paying more than enough for roads, but the sad reality is that the state has diverted a significant amount of money for road repairs to other areas.”
San Diego’s assembly members were also split on partisan lines.
“Taxes upon taxes upon taxes” would hurt hardworking families and small businesses, said Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, said it was difficult to support an additional tax, but criticized Republican claims that the tax would disproportionately impact the poor.
“It’s also amazing to me that all of a sudden this floor is so concerned about the poor” when other issues like minimum wage and benefits brought to the floor meet resistance from Republicans, she said.
Bates and Anderson said they support a different Assembly transportation bill, AB 496, which would include no new taxes, but redirect taxes from vehicle sales and insurance to road repairs. The bill’s coauthors include San Diego County Republican Assembly members Randy Voepel from Santee and Waldron.
Filling the Cavities in Denti-Cal (Sorry)
Eleven of California’s 58 counties have no dentists who accept new patients who use Denti-Cal, the dental insurance program for low-income Californians. As a result, millions of people who depend on Denti-Cal have limited access to dental care.
Assemblyman Brian Maienschein wants to change that. He has a bill, AB 15, that would double the amount Denti-Cal pays for over a dozen key dental procedures. Right now, California pays about $22 apiece for key procedures – far less than the national average. By paying more, the program would likely be able to attract more dentists to take patients who depend on the program. The new money could come from the recent increase in the tobacco tax, which voters approved last fall.
“It’s important to me, it’s a significant issue,” he said. “We have five million children in California who don’t have good dental coverage under the Denti-Cal program.”
Poor dental health has sprawling effects: it can distract students in school, hurt people’s chances of getting jobs and, in turn, perpetuate the cycle of poverty that government-backed insurance is supposed to help end. Dental problems are also tied to stroke and heart disease.
Maienschein, a Republican, has a few other bills that would help Californians who depend on some form of welfare, including AB 236 to make benefits for temporary housing more flexible and AB 654 to make it easier for children with long-term catastrophic health problems to receive in-home care.
Other Republicans have touted his Denti-Cal measure as part of a “Republican Poverty Plan,” but it also has Democratic coauthors and Maienschein says his bills are separate from any sort of partisan agenda.
“I’m doing my own plan,” he said.
– Ry Rivard
Golden State News
• After hours of debate Monday, the California Senate approved the so-called sanctuary state bill, which would keep state and local law enforcement agencies from using resources to investigate, detain, report or arrest people for the purposes of immigration enforcement. (San Francisco Chronicle)
People keep using the term “sanctuary state,” but make no mistake: undocumented immigrants will continue to be deported from California, as Scott Lewis has reported. There is no sanctuary here.
• Three candidates for next year’s race for California governor discussed their views on criminal justice issues at a forum this week. (Sacramento Bee)
• A report from Stanford this week found California’s law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants reduces hit-and-runs. (The Mercury News)
• Gov. Jerry Brown wants to merge existing medical marijuana laws with recreational marijuana rules passed at the ballot in November. (Sacramento Bee)
• A state appeals court sided with state officials in a case against California’s cap-and-trade program. The California Chamber of Commerce filed the lawsuit nearly four years ago, claiming the program, which requires companies to buy permits to emit greenhouse gases, is basically an unconstitutional tax. (LA Times)
Oh, and happy 79th birthday Gov. Jerry Brown!