Several themes were evident throughout the day: our transportation system and funding systems are broke, technology is quickly moving the transportation world forward, and without additional investment, California’s economy will suffer.
Wrapping up the conference, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) announced a proposal
to increase transportation investment by $2 billion annually. The Assembly proposal would impose a Road User Fee (not to be confused with the Road Usage Charge demonstration project
meant to replace the gas tax) to:
- $1 billion per year by returning truck Weight Fees to transportation instead of using them to repay general obligation debt;
- $200 million per year for transportation funding by accelerating repayment of transportation loans; and
- $800 million per year in new net funds for transportation.
There have been several proposals to shift weight fees back to pay-as-you-go projects in the past. Those projects were unable to garner support from Governor Brown’s Administration because they had a $1 billion impact to the state’s General Fund. Speaker Atkins answers that concern by designating a funding source.
Cities may remember that they have not been traditional recipients of weights fees. However, several recent proposals have included requirements for cities and counties to receive part of the funding. Details regarding allocations are not yet available for Speaker Atkins proposal, but the League will be following up with her office to begin that discussion.
Several other speakers also made comments that may be of interest to cities:
- Senator Jim Beall, chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said that funding must be the priority. He stressed that while we are in a period of transition on how transportation is paid for, it is not feasible to wait four to five years for those changes to be in place. California, he believes, must act now to avoid even higher taxes and fees in the future. With any increase in funding, California must also implement accountability measures for Caltrans and other agencies using transportation funding. Sen. Beall said that if these two steps are not quickly taken, California’s basic economy is threatened.
- Assembly Member Frazier, chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee said that the transportation community has lost its focus, and that voters have lost their faith as a result. He called on the transportation community and the state to give CalTrans a clear and achievable objective, fund that objective, and get out of the way.
- Gregory Nadeau, acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration discussed the need for the next federal transportation reauthorization to include additional investments. He also noted that US Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was recently in California to share his vision of the next 30 years in transportation and his new initiative Beyond Transportation 2045. Through the initiative he invites the public to have a discussion about what the transportation system should look like in 30 years.
- Several speakers discussed the benefits and disadvantages of self-help counties. There are currently 20 counties in California that have local transportation measures. Successful campaigns point to the fact that local measures deliver on their promises, something the state needs to work on. However, speakers were concerned about an over-reliance on local measures because there are some areas of the state that will never support tax increases. An over-reliance will lead to a transportation system of the “haves” and “have-nots.”