Nearly $1 billion in side deals for California gas tax approved
SACRAMENTO — Nearly $1 billion in controversial side deals that may have persuaded key California lawmakers to get behind a controversial gas tax this month cleared the Legislature Monday.
In the lead-up to the April 6 gas-tax vote, funding for a handful of transportation projects surfaced in a separate bill, Senate Bill 132. The projects will benefit the districts represented by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced; Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres; Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, D-Corona, and Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside.
All four lawmakers voted in favor of the gas tax — which passed narrowly, without a vote to spare.
Also part of the deal — and passed Monday — was Senate Bill 496, by Cannella, that would protect architects, engineers and other “design professionals” against legal claims made by public agencies. Cannella is an engineer.
The gas tax will generate more than $5 billion per year for road repairs and local transit projects by indefinitely increasing gas and diesel taxes and hiking vehicle registration fees. The increases will cost the average driver roughly $10 per month or less, the state estimates.
On Monday, Democrats defended the deal-making, saying it supported worthwhile and “shovel-ready” projects such as the extension of the Altamont Corridor Express to Ceres and Merced and a parkway project between the UC Merced campus and Highway 99.
But Republicans in the Assembly blasted the political maneuvering that allowed the tax to pass.
“It was put together in a couple of days and it just magically benefits those members who were on the fence on the gas tax,” said James Gallagher, R-Yuba City. “That’s not how things should be done.”
Travis Allen, a Republican from Huntington Beach, was more blunt. “Today, the people of California get to watch us discuss, in open session, just how much it costs to buy the votes of legislators,” he said.
The bills head to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, who championed the transportation deal. Brown has yet to sign the transportation bill — possibly because he was awaiting the side deals, which he called “arrangements,” to pass.
“Everyone has to face the voters,” he told reporters in a celebratory news conference late on April 6, “and they want to face them with their best foot forward and we want to help them do that.”