Putting a positive spin on a gas tax increase that has been widely unpopular in California, Gov. Jerry Brown and other state leaders came to Carson on Friday to tout the benefits to minority- and women-owned businesses once billions of dollars are spent on badly needed transportation projects.
The governor, joined by South Bay Sen. Steve Bradford and other legislative leaders, discussed the state’s recently passed $52 billion transportation bill during a roundtable at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The bill will allow the state to tackle transportation infrastructure projects such as highways and bridges and, in the process, bolster businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans, they said.
“This work is part of the larger challenge of making a more equal society, and that takes working on many fronts, and we’re going to do that with the money coming to our roads and bridges,” Brown said.
Senate Bill 1, called the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, squeaked through the Senate and Assembly in April and was signed by Brown early that month. It will increase the state gasoline tax from 12 to 30 cents a gallon over the next 10 years and slap new vehicle registration fees on traditional and zero-emission cars.
A recent survey by UC Berkley shows 58 percent of voters oppose the funding plan, including 39 percent who say they are strongly opposed to the legislation. Only 35 percent favor the law. Voters in every corner of the state — except the Bay Area — do not favor the fee hikes.
The need for repairs has been an issue for years, said state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, but lawmakers have been unwilling to tackle the contentious issue of raising taxes to fund the necessary work.
Critics, however, accuse state lawmakers of diverting gas tax revenues for years to other projects, while neglecting needed infrastructure improvements.
“(State leaders) kicked that tin can down the pothole-ridden road for 25 years and, as a result, our crumbling infrastructure got even worse, our bridges got less safe, as well as our highways and our local highways and roads,” said de León, D-Los Angeles.
According to a 2017 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, 50 percent of the state’s public roadways are in poor condition, and 5.5 percent of bridges are deficient.
Another 2016 report by transportation research group TRIP graded 60 percent of roads in the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana area as poor. Just 17 percent of roadways in the region were ranked fair or good in the report.
The fact that the bill was a long time coming, and the gargantuan amount of money it will entail, make a focus on inclusivity crucial, de León added.
“When it comes to the procurement process, because we will have not hundreds of millions of dollars, we’ll have billions … we want to make sure that this is inclusive,” he said.
Brown, who has been a champion of social issues during his four terms as governor, linked the push for more diversity in state infrastructure spending to a move toward general social equality in the U.S.
“This is part of the larger question of how equal and fair is America?” he said.
State leaders have called for 25 percent of the $52.4 billion to be awarded to minority-owned businesses, but Bradford said even 10 percent would mean millions that could bolster those small businesses with state and local projects.
“These small-owned businesses, this is a critical deal to them,” Bradford said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
In particular, in areas along major freeways that run through Orange and Los Angeles counties on into the rest of the state, the money allocated to the state Department of Transportation will spell improvements to the major roadways that run through the region.
“The overall impact with Caltrans is going to be tremendous, because we have the 105, the 405, the 110 freeways, the 91 … so there’s going to be opportunities to improve those freeways and thoroughfares as well,” he said.
More generally, he added that the funding, which will go to both Caltrans and individual cities to be used on projects throughout those communities, will have implications that reach beyond any one region in the state.
“It’s going to create a great opportunity to improve our streets, our roads, our freeways that intersect all those communities,” Bradford said.
Source: Daily Breeze