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California prioritizing repair, transit investments, and walking & biking with new gas tax increase

California could be the next state to raise new revenues to invest in transportation, and unlike most states doing so since 2012, CA lawmakers are prioritizing repair and pledging billions toward transit, safe streets for walking and biking, and an overall multimodal approach to solving the state’s transportation challenges.

Metropolitan Transit System, Trolley # 4014

Updated (4/7/16): The Senate voted 27-11 and the Assembly voted 54-26 to approve the measure on Thursday night. It is expected to be signed soon by Gov. Brown.

A bill (SB 1) currently before the California legislature would raise $52 billion in new transportation revenue by raising the gasoline tax — unchanged in 23 years — by 12 cents (to 30 cents per gallon), increasing diesel taxes by 20 cents (to 36 cents per gallon) and creating a new annual fee on almost all vehicles based on value. The bill has the strong backing of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). It is being considered by the Senate on Thursday and could be approved in a matter of days. The bill requires a two-thirds supermajority to pass and, though Republicans have uniformly opposed the bill, Democrats hold this majority in both chambers, but only barely.

The bill is projected to raise $52 billion in total over the next decade, directing $7.5 billion to transit capital and operations, putting $1 billion into the state’s Active Transportation Fund and reserving $4 billion expressly for bridge repair. (Interesting fact: if you sort a list of the entire country’s 60,000-plus deficient bridges by traffic volume carried, California claims more than the first 100 spots.)

The multimodal approach to solving the state’s mobility challenges, a heavy focus on prioritizing repair and maintenance, the commitment to supporting public transit and local priority projects, and dedicating about two percent of all new revenues to making it safer and more convenient to walk or bike set California’s approach apart from other states that have advanced legislative packages over the last few years.

It’s worth noting that numerous environmental groups are opposing the bill because of a provision, added late in the process with little debate, which would make it difficult for air quality regulators to create stiffer rules down the road to require cleaner trucks. Others support the overall package while urgently pressing legislators to remove this truck-related provision. (This Streetsblog CA piece fleshes out more of the details about the opposition.)

On the flip side of this equation, part of the tax increase on diesel trucks would be directed into a multimodal freight program, creating a mechanism to tax a negative externality (diesel emissions) and steer a portion of those revenues into cleaner, multimodal projects to move freight.

The bill is currently before the state Senate, and could be considered by the full Assembly in the days ahead. Read about other states that have raised new transportation revenues in the past few years, and find out more about our network for state advocates and elected leaders interested in doing the same.