Moderates hold key to California road repair tax plan
By SOPHIA BOLLAG and JONATHAN J. COOPER
Mar. 30, 2017
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The fate of Gov. Jerry Brown's push to raise more than $5 billion a year to fix decrepit roads and bridges lies with a handful of centrist lawmakers in the California Legislature.
With an aggressive self-imposed deadline next week, the Democratic governor and top legislative leaders hit the road Thursday to pressure two moderate Democrats in Concord who will cast decisive votes on a major piece of Brown's legacy.
Brown, who has tried for years to muster support for new road-construction dollars, portrayed the decision as the last chance to save California from a future of destructive potholes and crumbling streets.
"I'm going to my ranch in two years," Brown, who will leave office after the 2018 election, told reporters in Concord. "You want to have a screwed up state with a bunch of potholes, go ahead. But that's insane."
Brown's news conference took place in an area represented by Sen. Steve Glazer, a moderate Democrat from Orinda who sometimes breaks from his party's leadership, and Assemblyman Tim Grayson, a Concord Democrat. Both are undecided.
Brown said Glazer, who managed the governor's 2010 campaign, "has another idea in mind and he wants to marry the two," but he declined to elaborate.
Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, told the Los Angeles Times that Glazer wants to prohibit Bay Area Rapid Transit workers from striking. Beall's spokesman, Rodney Foo, confirmed the account.
Glazer declined to say why he is holding out.
The proposal, announced Wednesday, would raise $52 billion over 10 years through new taxes and fees, including a 12-cent hike in gas taxes and a yearly fee collected with vehicle registrations, ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the vehicle's value.
The money would go to fixing state highways, local streets, bridges and culverts, as well as walking and biking trails. A portion would fund traffic reduction measures on major commuter routes.
Because it raises taxes and fees, the measure requires support from two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate, putting a spotlight on the moderate lawmakers who have in recent years hemmed in the ambitions of their more liberal colleagues.
Many come from swing districts where voting for a tax increase could make them vulnerable or from poorer areas with constituents who would have a harder time absorbing the higher costs.
Brown said the plan would cost most drivers less than $10 per month and would be offset by reduced vehicle-repair expenses. The burden would be higher for less fuel-efficient and more expensive vehicles.
Assemblyman Jim Cooper, a leader of an informal group of moderate Democrats in the Assembly, said he had not made up his mind about the measure.
"It's going to hit people in their pocketbook," the Elk Grove Democrat said. "I think this is going to be a tough vote for a lot of people...That being said, we've got to fix our roads."
Several other moderate Democrats also said they are undecided, including Sen. Richard Roth of Riverside and Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes of Corona.
"I look forward to studying the legislation once the language is released, and assessing the positive and negative impacts as it relates to the people of Riverside County," Cervantes said in a statement.
Sen. Josh Newman, a Fullerton Democrat who won his seat by less than 1 percentage point, said he supports the proposal because legislative leaders agreed to ask voters for a constitutional amendment requiring the money to be spent on transportation.
"We need to give the public assurance" that the money will be used as promised, Newman said.
Brown and legislative leaders said they are sticking to a deadline they imposed on themselves in early February to pass the legislation before lawmakers leave April 6 for a week-long break.
Most Republicans agree that the state needs an influx of money to fix road and reduce congestion, but they oppose raising taxes to generate it.
"Something of this magnitude, with this tremendous impact on the citizens of California, that's something you just don't need to fast track," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican from Gerber, a rural area north of Sacramento who opposes the measure.