Also published in The Press-Enterprise
If you are a driver in California, you know our roads and highways need work. Even though we pay more in gas taxes than residents in nearly every other state, our roads are in some of the poorest condition. In fact, a recent study found that our broken roads cost motorists as much as an extra $2,500 every year.
Legislative Democrats have suggested that the solution is to increase transportation taxes and fees. Their all-too-familiar argument: if we are short on money, it must mean it is time to ask taxpayers for more. The problem is that money is already there; it is just not being spent the way voters want.
That is why my Republican colleagues and I have introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 7 to “lock in” transportation dollars for transportation projects. It would put an end to the current practices of routing taxpayers’ transportation dollars to the general fund of the state budget for other purposes.
Right now, that amounts to about $1 billion in truck fees diverted away every year. We know that big trucks cause more wear and tear on our highways than typical cars, which is why they are routinely weighed and truckers pay those extra weight fees. It is money that is supposed to be used to support road repairs and upkeep, which is necessary to ensure that our economy remains competitive, getting goods and services to market in a timely manner.
But this money is being used to backfill the budget. In the meantime, potholes continue to multiply, causing damage and triggering accidents, affecting not just everyday motorists, but commercial road users and public transit vehicles too. Those repairs do not pay for themselves, and unlike the Democrats in Sacramento, we do not have a stash of other money to “borrow” from.
Bad roads are not the only problem linked to our aging infrastructure. Clogged streets and highways cause congestion, and those slowdowns and stoppages cost time and money. They also unnecessarily contribute to more pollution because of vehicles stalled in traffic instead of getting where they need to go. By 2035, it is projected that the typical driver can expect to spend 160 hours – or four work weeks – each year stuck in traffic.
All of this adds up to the $2,500 premium motorists in the Los Angeles area pay annually for some of the worst roads. This failure of the government to perform one of its essential functions – maintenance and construction of the roadways we all use – while diverting transportation-related revenue from its original purposes not only results in crumbling highways, but also continues to make taxpayers feel the legislature is not making the best use of their money.
Good governance is more than raising taxes every time there is a problem or shortfall in funding. It requires a responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars and resources to meet the goals and needs identified by a public that has been clear about its priorities, and which the majority party in the legislature has frequently chosen to ignore.
In a 1790 speech to Congress, James Madison said, “There is not a more important and fundamental principle in legislation, than that the ways and means ought always to face the public engagements; that our appropriations should ever go hand in hand with our promises.” While he may not have been able to envision a government as vast as ours today, Madison’s words about keeping commitments to taxpayers could not be truer in this current debate.
Should Senate Constitutional Amendment 7 pass through the legislature, Californians will have to vote on it. It is one more opportunity to tell the government how they want our transportation dollars spent. Will legislative Democrats be willing to trust the taxpaying public and put it to a vote? Or will it simply be Sacramento doing business as usual, pushing through another round of transportation tax and fee increases while California infrastructure continues to decline? The choice seems clear.
Transportation dollars should be spent on transportation projects. Let’s get our streets paved and highways repaired to set our state on the road to economic prosperity.