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Governor Makes Plea To Secure Tax Hike For Road Repairs

California Gov. Jerry Brown waits to speak a rally to urge lawmakers to approve a plan for a $5 billion-a-year tax and fee road repair measure during a rally Wednesday, April 5, 2017.
Associated Press
California Gov. Jerry Brown waits to speak a rally to urge lawmakers to approve a plan for a $5 billion-a-year tax and fee road repair measure during a rally Wednesday, April 5, 2017.

Gov. Jerry Brown made another push Wednesday to secure legislative support for a $5 billion increase in taxes and fees that would fund major road construction and could become a significant piece of his legacy.

Facing mounting opposition from environmentalists and anti-tax groups, the Democratic governor joined a rally of construction workers on the Capitol steps imploring undecided lawmakers to get on board.

"I know there's a couple of people that are worried about voting for taxes," Brown said. "This is a fee. A fee for the privilege of driving on our roads that the people pay for."

Republicans say the state can fund road repairs with existing funds — an idea Democrats say would require cuts to education and social services that they're unwilling to make.

RELATED: Gas Tax Hike Funds $52 Billion Plan To Fix California Roads

Brown and top Democratic lawmakers, who support the plan, were working against a self-imposed deadline of Thursday to win approval of the measure.

The governor visited a closed-door meeting of Assembly Democrats Wednesday trying to round up votes he'll need to reach the two-thirds supermajority required to increase taxes.

His pleas capped a week of cajoling and prodding lawmakers. He held rallies in the districts of undecided legislators and made unusual appearances before two legislative committees.

Contractors and construction unions blanketed television, radio and social media with ads promoting the plan, some targeting lawmakers still on the fence. The ads cost about $1 million, said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the Fix Our Roads Coalition.

The proposal would raise gas taxes by 12 cents a gallon — a 43-cent increase — and diesel taxes from 16 cents per gallon to 36 cents. Diesel sales taxes would also rise.

Drivers would also face a new annual fee to be paid with their vehicle registration, ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the value of their vehicle. The taxes and fees would rise each year with inflation.

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To win support from truckers, who face a big increase in taxes, Brown and legislative leaders agreed to restrict future regulations on greenhouse gas emissions related to commercial trucks.

An association representing the state's 35 air pollution control districts sent a letter to lawmakers saying the bill could impede regulations that indirectly affect truckers, such as restrictions on emissions at ports, warehouses, railyards and airports.

The plan could come up for a vote in the Senate Thursday afternoon, 72 hours after the latest amendments were published online.

The bill, SB1, is the first major legislation that must comply with an initiative approved last year by voters that requires lawmakers to publish legislation for three days before voting on it.

The push for approval created a sense of urgency barely a week after Brown released the negotiated proposal alongside Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles.

While the agreement was only released last week, the idea of raising gas taxes and vehicle fees has been the subject of discussion for months, said Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat who has been working on the transportation bill for two years.

"I don't think it's some kind of new proposal," he said.

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