My last blog on the gas tax got lots of reaction, plus there’s some follow-up as well:
1) Comments on the blog site included a call to “Toughen up, Californians” (obviously, though written by “anonymous,” this was from someone back in the hardscrabble East), and force the politicians and us to “cut, slash and be well.” Easier said than done. And both they and we will definitely not “be well” anytime soon if we do.
2) Also, a blog comment suggests that all interstates in the state be retrofitted to toll roads. Now this is something worth looking into, especially as a public-private partnership deal – a private firm builds and operates the toll operation and shares the funds with the public. Sounds like a win-win to me. As the anonymous commentator says, “You gots to pay to play.”
3) I emailed Katy Allen, director of the public works department in San Jose, to get her reaction to the gas tax diversion, and she sent me to Jim Helmer, director of transportation for the city. In short, Helmer says if the state takes $986 million of the $1.3 billion local share of the Highway Users Tax Account, it would result in a $15.7 million hit to San Jose in 2009-10 and about $11.6 million in 2010-11. Given that the city needs about $40 million annually to service its 2,300-lane-mile street transportation system, this is quite a blow. Helmer says that at least the city received $30 million of its Prop 1B local funds and this is propping up the transportation budget for the time being. Seems like a lot of cities and counties are doing the math on this as well.
4) The Associated General Contractors of California is calling on its members to contact their state legislators “immediately” and “express opposition to the ‘raid and taking’ of cities and counties transportation funds in the current state budget.” The AGC offers up a letter that members can retrofit (go to www.agc-ca.org) that ends with: “This action of diverting the gas taxes will result in a loss of nearly 36,000 jobs in the construction industry as well as the loss of countless additional local public works jobs. The construction industry is poised to help lift California out of the recession, but we cannot do so if the funding is cut for public works projects.”
5) No sooner had the Joint Budget Conference Committee announced its intentions of “raiding” the gas tax funds than the League of California Cities released a legal opinion from a law firm that concluded that the proposed “seizure” of almost $1.7 billion in city and county gas taxes is “unconstitutional.” Then, 67 cities immediately passed resolutions authorizing their city attorneys to cooperate with the League and other cities and counties in pursuing litigation. The law firm, Nielsen, Merkasamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor LP of Sacramento, contends that in both 1974 and 1998, voters imposed restrictions on the state’s ability to use gas taxes for debt service on bonds and to divert local gas taxes for the state general fund. The opinion concludes that any seizure of these funds would be a violation of 1974’s Proposition 5 and is therefore unconstitutional.
So, as I leave for vacation (to spend a little time with Walt in Anaheim with my family), it is my sincere hope that something will be resolved at the state capitol. I’m also facing the fact that my daily commute to San Francisco via BART may shut down beginning July 1 because of a general strike.
I gotta tell you, this is shaping up to be one a heck of a year to be a Californian. We can all tell our grandkids about when the state (almost or completely) fell apart politically, operationally, functionally and humanely.