California lawmakers yesterday approved a $5-billion-a-year plan for boosting California's gas and vehicle taxes. The money would be used to carry out major road repairs, for which governor Jerry Brown had been pushing for years.
Brown and top Democratic lawmakers prevailed over environmentalists and anti-tax crusaders mustering the two-thirds support required to increase taxes.
"Tonight we did something," Brown told reporters in a hallway news conference outside his office. "There's real money and people can afford it...It helps bring jobs. It helps bring prosperity."
Republicans slammed the plan, which would raise more money from taxpayers in a state that already had a high tax burden. Questions were raised in some quarters as to why the state needed to increase taxes to repair its existing infrastructure without adding more lanes of traffic as the population swelled.
"We aren't taxing champagne and caviar here," said senator Ted Gaines, a Republican from El Dorado Hills outside Sacramento. "Transportation is a basic need to live and work and raise a family."
Republicans maintain the state could fund road repairs with existing funds, but Democrats say it would require cuts in education and social services.
"I don't think there are better options out there," Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, Democrat-Sacramento, said.
The bill passed in the Senate on a 27-11 vote and cleared the Assembly with 54 votes, the bare minimum needed in both houses.
According to Brown the measure and become necessary after 23 years without a gas tax increase, that had led to a backlog of $130 billion in repair and replacement projects in the state.
"The Democratic Party is the party of doing things, and tonight we did something to fix the roads of California,'' Brown said after the vote.
State senator Jim Beall (Democrat -San Jose) said his bill would boost the economy and fix a crumbling road system that was unsafe.
"If we are able to have better maintained roads, we could prevent accidents and deaths and help have a better outcome in terms of traffic congestion," Beall said during the two-hour floor debate.