To the outside, a deal may appear elusive on transportation funding this session. Republicans are intent on using existing funding and demand accountability reforms. Democrats want new funding while also agreeing that accountability reforms are necessary.
Both sides are right. It’s time to make a deal.
Before we consider new revenues, we must agree to a combination of responsible reforms and accountability to ensure we’re using the most out of existing transportation dollars.
We must ensure that transportation dollars are constitutionally guaranteed to go to transportation projects and not diverted for other purposes. And we must restore current transportation dollars that are being diverted for other purposes.
We must also establish performance and accountability criteria; increase Caltrans effectiveness through stronger oversight and efficiency reviews that reduce administrative costs; and we must look to streamline project delivery through CEQA streamlining and other reforms to reduce costs, bureaucracy and delays on transportation projects.
All savings from these accountability reforms should be directed to road improvements.
When coupled with these accountability provisions, there is a strong argument for the need to pump new revenues into the system.
While we sympathize with those who don’t like the notion of paying more, the reality is that current transportation funding has stagnated at 1994 levels. Our gas and motorist taxes dedicated to roads have not been increased in decades. Anyone with a job knows they could not survive on the same paycheck they made two decades ago. Neither can our transportation system. That’s why our roads are falling apart.
The business community is supportive of new revenue under certain conditions. We support an equitable user-pays solution where drivers who benefit from the system contribute to maintaining it. We should raise money across a range of options so no motorist is asked to pay too much from any one source.
Unfortunately, relying on General Fund dollars for transportation is neither reliable nor sustainable. What the Legislature gives, future Legislatures can and will take away.
California’s transportation funding history is littered with chapter after chapter of legislative raids of transportation funding when budgets get tight. And with the simple majority all that is needed to pass a budget, Republicans should recognize they have limited power to prevent future raids of transportation dollars.
Some have suggested bonding against future revenues, but without certainty of a new reliable funding stream, relying on the general fund to repay bonds is neither politically nor financially viable.
State and local transportation planners cannot plan responsibly if they don’t know if they’ll have revenues year to year.
The sides aren’t that far apart. With two weeks left, it’s time to find the middle ground.
Reforms then revenues. It’s time to make a deal.