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Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is pushing last-minute legislation to give local governments power to seek new fuel surcharges to fund certain transit projects.

Senate Bill 791 would allow local transportation agencies to seek voter approval for a "regional transportation congestion reduction charge" on gasoline or diesel. The bill language, introduced in the form of amendments to existing legislation last week, would also allow a new vehicle registration charge on electric vehicles. Revenues raised by the fees, which would require approval of a majority of voters in the impacted region, would fund transit proposals developed by the local transportation planning agencies to reduce vehicle congestion.

The Sacramento Democrat called the bill an effort to create a "local option" for funding transit projects, saying it is "very consistent with the work that we've done this year on bringing services closer to the people" through realignment of state and local functions.

"The state does not have the financial capacity to adequately fund transit and road improvements, and if we can't afford it we ought to at least give the regions of this state the ability to go to the voters and raise money for important priorities like transit and road improvements," he said.

Steinberg said he is hopeful that the majority-vote bill will clear both houses before the legislative session ends next week, though he left to door open to working on the bill next year.

The California Taxpayers Association has issued a letter to members of the Assembly outlining opposition to the bill and raising concerns that it believes the measure should be subject to a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, not a majority vote.

"While we recognize the need to repair and maintain the state's roads and highways, we note that Californians already pay the highest gas taxes in the nation. Yet, our transportation system ranks near the bottom in national surveys," the letter reads. "We are also concerned that these new tax revenues will fund projects that are unrelated to and do not benefit the payor, including but not limited to projects related to bicycle and walking trails, etc."

SB 791 is in the Assembly and would have to win approval there before returning to the Senate for a vote before being sent to Gov. Jerry Brown .



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