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State may raise gas tax, vehicle users fees

LOS ANGELES — Drivers in California could pay higher gas taxes and vehicle user fees under a series of options being considered by state lawmakers to raise as much as $59 billion over the next decade to pay for repairs to roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure throughout the state, officials said Friday.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and state Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly were joined by Mayor Eric Garcetti, members of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and others to push for a transportation funding bill to be passed during a special legislative session called by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Atkins said the state Legislature has three weeks to reach an agreement on what to include in the final package, but some ideas, such as a 12-cent increase to the gas tax, have been proposed and are “part of the menu.”

Kelly, who represents the governor’s office, said so far “there is not a single package that has demonstrated the political support necessary to move out of the Legislature.”

He said the governor supports a bill that will create a “new stable ongoing revenue from user fees to invest in transportation” and that officials are negotiating with “all legislative caucuses now on what that package looks like.”

It will take putting “political will … and candidly, the necessary votes together to move forward on a new funding package to make the necessary investments,” Kelly said.

Atkins was reluctant to give further details about the likely funding package, but Garcetti shared a specific set of policies being pushed by a coalition of mayors, cities, labor groups and chambers of commerce. The Fix Our Roads coalition is calling for a bill that puts $6 billion annually into transportation repairs and maintenance for at least 10 years, Garcetti said.

The methods for coming up with these funds should vary, but it should include “reasonable increases” to gasoline and diesel excise taxes and to vehicle registration and license fees, according to an Aug. 7 letter the coalition sent to Brown and state lawmakers.

Atkins, Kelly and the members of the coalition spoke in front of the headquarters of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Friday as part of a “road show” by Democratic lawmakers to ask the public to press fellow Democrats and Republican lawmakers to come together on the transportation bill.

The chamber’s vice president, Ruben Gonzalez, highlighted the effect the bill could have on the local economy, especially on the movement of goods around the ports.

“There is not an industry that creates more jobs than goods movement. It is the No. 1 creator of jobs, directly and indirectly in the L.A. region,” Gonzalez said. “And every day we aren’t fixing and maintaining our streets and roads and highways is the day that we’re losing jobs, we’re losing economic activity and we’re losing the ability to grow and continue as the hub for goods movement in this country.”

Atkins and others also appealed to drivers in Los Angeles, saying that a recent study found that 73 percent of major roads here are in poor condition, resulting in drivers paying an average of $1,031 a year in repair fees and other costs.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said proceeds from the existing gas tax have been declining in recent years. The county is expected to receive $150 million in the upcoming year, $59 million less than two years ago, which will result in $44 million in projects getting deferred.

The officials said that the state is facing a large backlog of transportation repairs and it will cost less if those projects are tackled earlier.

“We are saying the time is now,” Garcetti said. “The question is not whether or not we raise revenues to do this and pay for it.

“If you pay for it later, it’s out of your own pocket — it’s in those thousand dollars plus a year you pay for repairs,” he said, but by paying now for “preventative maintenance” costs will be lower.

The officials initially made no mention of the proposals to raise the gas tax and vehicle user fees during their pitch, but they nevertheless appealed to the public to help get the transportation bill passed.

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, said they took the effort on the road “because we need the public’s help to build support and a calling to get every single member of the Legislature to vote for the package that we’ll be presenting in order to invest in our road infrastructure.”