CA Politicians Reach Into Transportation Funds, Ignore Crumbling Infrastructure

california roads infrastructureNow there is no question that road and bridge maintenance is lagging in the Golden State. Most counties have an average pavement rating of “at risk” or “poor” according to a finding by the California Transportation Commission. In addition to the safety hazards caused by poor road maintenance, there is a direct cost to the average California driver of hundreds of dollars for vehicle maintenance and tire wear.

Before assuming that that the Sacramento politicians are justified in seeking to dig deeper into drivers’ wallets, it is important to point out that billions in transportation tax dollars have been spent on other programs. State government has been diverting a billion dollars a year in annual truck weight fees to pay debt service on general obligation bonds and another $100 million annually in gas tax revenues to the general fund.

Now, in theory, all transportation tax revenues are to go for transportation purposes. Voters have passed several propositions they were assured would guarantee this result.

However, Sacramento has used slight-of-hand to divert these revenues. For example, after voters approved $20 billion in transportation bonds in 2006, bonds that were to be repaid from the general fund, officials later decided to use transportation tax revenue for bond repayment, freeing up general fund revenue for other purposes.

Some will argue that it is appropriate that transportation taxes repay transportation bonds, but voters were lead to believe the money would come from the general fund. When the state passes school bonds, they are repaid from the general fund.  When water bonds are passed, they too are repaid by the general fund. There is no reason transportation bonds should be different. By using transportation tax revenue to pay off bonds, there is not enough money left to maintain the improvements the bonds pay for.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff has a better idea that will slap the hands of those who have been reaching into the transportation tax cookie jar and diverting funds from road and bridge maintenance. Huff’s legislation, Senate Constitutional Amendment 7, would close the loopholes and stop this theft of transportation dollars. SCA 7 is the only plan in the Legislature that would provide funds to improve state roads and highways without raising taxes.

However don’t look for quick or easy passage of SCA 7. Its flaw? It does not require a tax increase and for the majority party in Sacramento, which is obsessed with extracting more money from taxpayers, this flaw is likely to be fatal.

It is hard to blame California drivers if they feel a like a lot like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield who would complain, “I don’t get no respect.”

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Originally posted on HJTA.

Comments

  1. Gotta Gedada Displace says

    I thoroughly support honoring the original funding commitments that were made to the taxpayers for bonds and taxes, and think the Legislative theft breaking these commitments should stop. But when the statement is made, ..” SCA 7 is the only plan in the Legislature that would provide funds to improve state roads and highways without raising taxes..” I have to wonder WHAT if not (new or raised) taxes would fund items NOW funded by the diverted funds? Expenditures can be discontinued, but GO bond payments are legally enforceable, aren’t they? Doesn’t reversing the original deception, while fixing the future, just shift the existing problem elsewhere, not solve it? More info, please.

  2. Steve Ly says

    It is not only the politicians in Sacramento who keep raising taxes and fees to pay for what should be covered with existing revenue. Here in Santa Clara County there’s talk of yet ANOTHER sales tax increase on the 2016 ballot.
    Over the last several elections, voters in Santa Clara County have passed multiple tax and fee increases including VTA’s 2000 Measure A ½-cent and 2008 measure B ¼-cent sales taxes, Santa Clara County’s Measure A 1/8 cent sales tax, the state prop 30 ¼ cent sales tax and the 2010 Measure B Vehicle Registration Fee of $10. Additionally, we’re on the hook to pay back numerous state bond issues including high speed rail, last year’s Proposition 1 water bond and the infrastructure bonds of 2006.

    All of this nickel and diming has contributed into making the Bay Area a horribly expensive place to live; especially for people of modest means, who must pay the greatest percentage of their income in these regressive taxes and fees. Adding to the painful drip-drip-drip of painful tax increases, we have both the City of San Jose and VTA talking about yet more sales taxes on the 2016 ballot. Each increase by itself does not amount to much, say a quarter cent, but the cumulative effect is to add to the unaffordability of the region. Governments in this state collect enough in taxes; now it’s time to spend that money more efficiently.

    For example, VTA needs to eliminate waste and “gold plating” of its capital projects. The BART extension’s cost could be cut by reducing the scope to eliminate duplicate facilities. Specifically, a revised “build alternative” needs to be added to the study that eliminates the duplicative and wasteful section between the San Jose and Santa Clara Caltrain stations. The BART segment from the San Jose to Santa Clara Caltrain stations would duplicate both the existing Caltrain line and VTA’s 22 and 522 buses to a station that has only 900 riders. This is extremely wasteful and sends the wrong message to voters who will be asked to approve more sales tax increases in 2016. This is extremely insulting considering recent voter approval of all the taxes/fees listed above.

    Regarding the endless tax/fee increases, when is enough enough?

  3. robertsgt40 says

    California’s taking a page from the Fed’s play book. Where do you think our SS Trust fund went? Wars , among other things. Theft is theft no matter what level it happens.

  4. Tara Klimpton says

    would be nice if you actually cited your sources. I’m writing a research paper about misspent transportation funds and i can’t tell what is bullshit here and what is actual findings.

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