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June 3, 2014
Another View: Transportation coffer is running on empty

RBJacksonHighway5.JPG(June 3 - By Jim Earp and Will Kempton, Special to The Bee)

Dan Walters got it partly right but was wrong to suggest that efforts to redirect truck weight fees to pay for road and highway work undermine a users-pay principle, ("Road users should pay for projects," Dan Walters, May 30).

In fact, these levies are a quintessential user fee since heavier vehicles, which cause more damage to roadways, pay to mitigate that extra wear and tear.

The real story is that the state's transportation program is teetering on a fiscal cliff and funding for our transportation system is in a free fall. Much work is underway, such as rebuilding the W-X freeway. But these projects are the last gasp of Proposition 1B, a $19.9 billion bond issue passed by the voters in 2006 to help transportation agencies pay for long-delayed roadwork.

Once these projects are completed, you won't be seeing many new cone zones. That's because after peaking at about $7 billion in 2011-12, state construction allocations have plummeted to about $3 billion a year, and Caltrans expects funding to continue at that level for the foreseeable future if something isn't done. That's not good news considering that the state has a funding shortfall of more than $12 billion a year to repair and maintain existing roads.

The reasons are twofold: the declining purchasing power of the fixed per-gallon gas tax and the increasing fuel efficiency of cars on the road. The gas tax can no longer support the needs of an aging system and the demands for the future. A long-term solution will take time, but there is one thing Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature could do now: Redirect nearly $1 billion a year in truck weight fees back to fixing our roads and highways.

These fees helped pay for highway repairs for years until budget deficits in 2010 and 2011 prompted legislation that diverted the weight fees to help offset the general fund shortfall.

The money helped the state in the budget crisis. Now, the state's finances are in the black. Given the shortfall that severely threatens the condition of our highways, lawmakers should return weight fees to transportation.

Rather than violate the users-pay principle, as Walters asserts, redirecting weight fees would reinforce that principle and help fund critical highway repairs while saving jobs. It's vitally important that the governor and Legislature understand how dire the transportation funding picture is and restore these weight fees to their intended purpose - fixing the roads.

James Earp is California Alliance for Jobs executive director and a member of the California Transportation Commission. Will Kempton is executive director of Transportation California and is a former Caltrans director.



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