In California, thousands of miles of roads are riddled with cracks and potholes and hundreds of bridges are structurally deficient. Democrats and Republicans disagree on a lot, but they do agree it’s time to repair this crumbling infrastructure.
Ignoring the problem makes roads more dangerous and costs drivers $18 billion annually from burning more fuel and damaging cars and trucks – not to mention hours wasted in congested traffic. We have been talking about this problem for years. The governor called for a special session on fixing the roads in 2015 and there have been hearings and meetings up and down the state. The more we wait, the more expensive the road repairs will become. The time to solve the problem is now.
SB 1 invests more than $50 billion to fix roads and bridges and improve public transportation. Sixty-five percent of the funds go to fixing state and local roads, bridges and culverts, and 20 percent to public transportation –which takes cars off the road and reduces road wear and tear.
There are also billions of dollars to relieve the most congested commute and freight corridors. It fixes existing roads by filling potholes and smoothing rough pavement that today cost the average motorist more than $700 in unnecessary vehicle repairs.
To get these benefits, we need more revenue. Some say government should fix the roads with the money we have. But money for fixing roads comes from gas taxes that have not increased in 23 years when Gov. Deukmejian doubled the gas tax in 1990, raising it by 9 cents. Since then the price of everything, including the cost to fix roads, has gone up. Cars are also more fuel efficient today, which means less money for road repairs.
Ronald Reagan said when he increased the gas tax in 1982: “When we first built our highways, we paid for them with a gas tax, a highway user fee that charged those of us who benefited most from the system. It was a fair concept then and it is today.”
Some opponents of SB 1 now call for taking funds from the General Fund – which supports schools, health care and public safety – to pay for roads. Such an idea does not address the need for consistent, pay-as-you-go funding to repair and maintain our existing roads. Similarly, the General Fund is not a stable source of revenue, and when the economy contracts the funds for fixing roads would dry up.
This proposed legislation will cost most drivers less than $10 per month. That may seem like a lot. That’s why this package is not a blank check to the state. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It amends the California Constitution so all the new money goes only to transportation. Legislators can’t use it on other pet projects. It also establishes a powerful inspector general to keep watch so the money is well spent. Government will be held accountable for keeping its promises.
Fixing our roads is not an option. It’s mandatory – like fixing a hole in our roof. If we don’t, things just get worse and you have to pay more later. That’s not smart.
Allan Zaremberg is president and chief executive officer of the California Chamber of Commerce.