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Asm. Bill Brough

For Republicans, Special Session is a Singular Opportunity

[Publisher’s Note: As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, we are pleased to present this column from Assemblyman Bill Brough.]

In the State Assembly, numbers are part of the everyday vocabulary.

The “Rule of 41” necessary to name an Assembly Speaker; the “supermajority of 54” gave Democrats outsized control in 2013 and 2014; the “Big 5” represents the governor, majority and minority leaders of the Legislature, and their sort of annual floating budget summit.

But despite this obsession with numbers, can Sacramento do basic math?

In January, Governor Brown said it was a 2015 priority to address $59 billion worth of unmet maintenance for California’s transportation needs – a shortfall that took decades to accumulate.
This year’s budget came and went with higher priorities for the Democrats, so Governor Brown called a “special extraordinary session” to address transportation.

Does this mean freeways and bridges? Or mass transit and industrial rail? Is it about infrastructure to keep us moving? Or public/private partnerships to help us get there? No one has yet said.

If this were a game show, Democrats would of course buzz in first and give the same response every time: All the above and paid for by tax increases, new and larger user fees, and ever higher assessments on drivers, riders, and businesses.

Predictably, calls are already heard to raise the state’s gas tax. The problem is California already has one of America’s highest gas taxes and the highest gas prices in the nation. What we don’t have is one of America’s most stable and up-to-date transportation infrastructures. If high taxes gave us the roads, freeways and thoroughfares we need, it would have happened years ago.

That’s why Republicans should seize a rare opportunity for Capitol math to work in their favor. Since California law requires a supermajority to raise taxes, Republicans – if they remain united – can block any attempt by Democrats to further burden taxpayers.

The special session’s dialogue has barely begun, but I am already concerned that Republicans are reverting back to the role we are usually assigned by Democrats and reading from their script. They propose and we respond. If they demand the state put both feet on the backs of taxpayers, we are expected to eventually compromise and accede to some light stepping.

Fundamentally, there’s only one real benefit of a special session. It’s a special session. It’s not simply overtime. Rather than simply react to the tax increase chorus and engage in the hard slog of trench warfare against special interest spending demands, we should counter with better ideas.

The Democrats may be more numerous, but they are also less agile. Their ability to counter conservative ideas is strictly limited to their power to vote them down – not in any persuasive ability to argue a better option. They are so used to getting their way they’ve forgotten any other direction to go except methodically forward – three yards and a cloud of dust.

Republicans should be nimble and move quickly with common sense proposals and consensus reforms to break through the monotony of the tax increase drumbeat. This year, Assembly Republicans put forward a solid transportation framework that now deserves fuller consideration. We should advance other proposals the people can understand and embrace

  • It’s time to end the state bureaucracy’s demand for an expensive, time-consuming and repetitive environmental review process for road maintenance. This is not new construction, but repairs of roads already built. That’s like paying for a smog check every time you wash your car.
  • Money may not grow on trees, but it can accumulate in state coffers. What about the $5 billion diverted by Democrats over the last five years to pay for their other preferred spending?
  • Let voters decide once and for all if they truly want to pay for the state’s adventures into high speed rail, especially now that it is clear that paying for it will divert resources directly from transportation projects used by millions of people every day.

It’s time for Republicans to shake off the minority blues and adopt the rhythm of Ronald Reagan’s “happy warrior” of the loyal opposition. By granting us enough seats to deny the Democrats a supermajority, the people gave us the power and the privilege to fully engage an opportunity like this and fight for what we know they want and California needs.

Asm. Bill Brough represents California’s 73rd District in the State Assembly.