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Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt

UPDATE – Raid On Local Road Funds Marches On

Note: Thanks to a phone call from Senator Bob Dutton, I stand corrected on my initial posting of this item which claimed the entire San Bernardino County legislative delegation supported raiding local gas tax (road maintenance and repair) dollars. Actually, it was the entire ASSEMBLY delegation from San Bernardino County that voted that way. Only one Senator, Gloria Negrete-McLeod (D-San Bernardino), voted for it. My apologies to Senators Dutton, Runner, Ashburn and Huff.

As of Friday, the state’s attempt to raid the local gasoline tax money cities and counties use for street and road maintenance and repairs was continuing. That’s $288 million in Prop. 42 "deferments", with an outright taking of $1.7 billion in HUTA local-share gas tax still on the table.  

Let’s review what this would mean if it gains final approval: We would give up our local streets and roads maintenance so they can pay off some state bond debt, prop-up the state’s cash flow and credit ratings, and avoid state-issued IOUs come July 1st. 

Could this be something our legislators are willing to accept, or do they perhaps not believe this is what’s really at stake?

It could be the latter, because some legislators are reportedly being told that much of the pilfered and borrowed funding will be “backfilled” with Proposition 1B bond dollars and that, even with this gas tax raid, local transportation funding is at historic highs. The problem with these claims is they’re misleading, to put it mildly.

The revenues they’re talking about include regional dollars intended for major capacity improvements primarily on the State Highway System. And counties and cities did not receive a direct allocation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus bill). Instead, these funds went to regional transportation agencies. Much of this funding is also going to the state system.

Further, these are one-time rather than ongoing funds, and they can’t be used for maintenance and operations.

State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) funds are predominantly for the State system. In recent years, the California Transportation Commission has only funded local rehabilitation projects in a handful of counties representing less than 5% of the STIP. Maintenance and operations are not eligible for STIP funds, which again is used for capital projects and the state system.

And Proposition 1B allocations do not come close to filling the funding gap they’re creating, even for “self-help” counties that are getting extra funds because they passed local sales taxes for transportation. There are $700 million in local streets and roads funds authorized in Proposition 1B. But many cities have already expended their total available funds and will go without any more. And the availability of these funds is questionable, as state bond sales are not even expected until November.

This gas-tax raid would cost San Bernardino County alone, not counting its 24 cities, almost $40 million, forcing layoffs of 200 public works employees and the cancellation of countless projects and services like resurfacing, crack sealing, snow removal and many others.

These are the only two sources of funds to maintain and repair our streets and roads. They are funds we have been able to rely upon since the 1950s. They’re not a luxury; they’re essential – not for convenience, but for safety. 

Hopefully legislators will reverse this misguided plan before it’s too late.