MOORLACH UPDATE — Reduction Tax — August 8, 2015

So you were asked to reduce your consumption of water, and you did. What does the water district do? It raises your rates because it still needs certain revenue levels in order to operate. See "Watchdog: How can O.C. residents be using less water, but paying more?," at http://www.ocregister.com/articles/water-675403-percent-revenue.html.

You’ve also been asked to use less gasoline, and you have. So, get ready to be provided with another disincentive for having exemplified the proper behavior. The San Diego Union Tribune’sSteven Greenhut, in his column below, provides a number of links. Here is one of them from the LA Times:

Less revenue from gas tax

Steven Greenhut has had a long record of accurately assessing governmental fiscal issues over his long career. Here is his take on the transportation special session (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Caltrans Diet — August 7, 2015 August 7, 2015 John Moorlach).

San Diego Union Tribune

Roads: State spends more, gets less

Special session sparks fight between tax hikes and Caltrans reform

Mugshot of Steven Greenhut
By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — When the Legislature returns from its break on Aug. 17, the focus will turn to transportation funding. Virtually everyone — Democrats, Republicans, labor unions, taxpayer groups and the business community — agree California’s roads are a mess and need substantial investments to keep drivers and the economy moving.

Beyond that, the debate devolves into ideological differences.

Democratic leaders are setting the stage for tax and fee increases to fund needed improvements. The entire transportation special session is, arguably, a ploy to find revenue. The state passed a budget on time, but neglected to adequately fund this key area — relegating it to a session that revolves around “revenue enhancements.” Democrats also are focused on prodding Californians out of their cars through the bullet train and “transit-oriented development.”

By contrast, Republicans are pushing a variety of reform-oriented measures designed to speed up transportation funding and root out inefficiencies in the California Department of Transportation. Some Republicans — whose votes are needed to raise taxes, given the two-thirds majority vote requirement — have implied a willingness to consider some fee or tax increases in exchange for passing some of these bills. (In particular, they might OK higher fees on electric vehicles given the current funding system is based on gasoline usage.)

There’s also a push for both approaches. More revenues and reform are “not mutually exclusive,” said Jim Earp, who represents the California Alliance for Jobs, a union and contractor group. “If we don’t get some of the reforms passed, we don’t get more of the money, either.”

A recent survey by a national transportation research group found California metropolitan areas dominating its list of the worst roads in the nation. In the San Francisco Bay Area, TRIP found 74 percent of the roadways in poor condition. Greater Los Angeles received the ignoble second spot, with 73 percent in bad shape. San Diego was No. 8, with 51 percent of its roadways in poor condition.

But there’s good reason to look at the reform issue first. Republican Sen. John Moorlach of Orange County recently pointed to statistics showing how the state spends its current resources: California spends more than a half-million dollars to build each mile of freeway, triple the national average. The state spends more than four times the national average on highway maintenance and administration. No wonder the state’s roads and freeways have tens of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance.

Furthermore, California’s gas prices — in part due to its special government-mandated formulation and also because of its fourth-highest gas-tax rates in the country — are about 70 cents a gallon more than the national average.

By many estimates, Caltrans is a troubled agency. Last year, the Legislative Analyst’s Office found its infrastructure-support program massively overstaffed, lacking in accountability and mired in inefficiency. The staffing problem alone resulted in costs of a half-billion dollars annually or more that could be directed to actual road building.

Many Republicans also question priorities. Is a high-speed rail system the best use of $68-billion-plus in proposed transportation funds given current needs?

Sen. Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, introduced a measure for the state to grant localities block grants to speed up local road funding. She told me local agencies are far more nimble and efficient. Other GOP bills would guarantee transportation taxes are used solely for transportation; earmark some cap-and-trade funds to streets and roads; ask Californians whether to freeze high-speed rail funding and direct funds toward road and freeway projects; and promote more privatization. Other bills are designed to examine Caltrans’ inefficiencies and reform CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), which is blamed for slowing construction by encouraging lawsuits.

When he announced the special session, Gov. Jerry Brown took a slap at those who oppose higher taxes. But California spends the most tax dollars and gets the least bang for its transportation buck. Maybe he should fix that first.

Greenhut is the San Diego Union-Tribune’s California columnist. Write to him at steven.greenhut

This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District.

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