Friday, August 29, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Why we need a local gas tax

RichRifkinW

By
From page A6 | February 05, 2014 |

It was noon, Sunday, 10 days ago. I was bicycling south on Sycamore Lane, approaching the intersection at Covell Boulevard. The light was green. Thirty yards or so ahead was a boy, about 8, alone, on his bike.

The child was riding fine, not going too fast, when he hit a sharp pothole in the bike lane, just northeast of the traffic light pole. The faulty pavement caused him to lose his balance. He fell hard to the ground.

Two pedestrians, college-aged women, were right there. They stopped and helped the boy to his feet. As I came to the scene I could see he was dazed, but OK. In that location, in the intersection, it could have been tragic.

I reported the incident and the street condition to the city of Davis. I received an email back a couple of days later, thanking me for the information. There was no promise to repair the roadway. There is no money for that. Nothing likely will be done.

Roads in Davis are getting worse all the time. Our streets are crumbling. For years, the city has been hiding its deficits by building up a road maintenance liability. That debt is catching up with us.

Civil engineers rate pavement conditions on a 100-point scale, with 100 being the best, 0 the worst. A city-commissioned report by Nichols Consulting said our citywide score in 2012 was 62. That is considered “fair.” However, at the rate we are going, our average is heading to “poor.”

Nichols wrote, “Based on an existing funding level … the condition of the network will deteriorate to a (score) of 27 in 20 years and the deferred maintenance or unfunded backlog will dramatically increase more than ten-fold from $21.4 million in 2012 to $439.4 million in 2032.”

If we spend $160.6 million over the next 20 years, Nichols concluded, we would have a PCI of 70 — the low end of “good.” But even then, “the unfunded backlog will still increase from $21.4 million to $119.8 million by 2032.”

Davis is not alone in its road maintenance crisis. Almost every city and county in our state is in bad shape. They are also deeply in debt with unfunded pensions and retiree medical benefits.

Last July, in his budget statement, Yolo County Administrator Patrick Blacklock wrote, “The road maintenance liability of $305,487,270 has yet to be addressed and staff is developing options for consideration …”

Last week, Public CEO reported, “Local streets and roads (in California) are at risk of deteriorating at a rapid pace unless new funding sources are found …”

Another recent study said that roads in Los Angeles are now in the worst shape of any major U.S. city.

Davis is considering various new levies to cover its many deficits. One not contemplated is a tax on gasoline and diesel to fix our streets. But a fuels tax is exactly what Davis and every local government in our state needs.

It’s the most equitable approach: Those who drive a lot, pay a lot; drive less, pay less.

Unfortunately, state law prohibits us from imposing our own fuels tax. However, it can be done by the Legislature with a two-thirds vote.

To see if that might happen, I sat down for coffee last week at ciocolat with state Sen. Lois Wolk. I wanted to know her reaction to my solution for the local roads crisis: a 6 cents-per-gallon tax on all gasoline and diesel sold in California, with all the funds going to local governments, all dedicated to road repairs.

In my plan, revenue collected in a specific county would stay in that county. Los Angeles keeps Los Angeles money. Yolo keeps Yolo. Mendocino keeps Mendocino.

The funds would be divided based on road miles. Davis, for example, has 163 miles of roadway. Yolo County has 759 miles. So for every $163 taken by Davis, $759 would go for county roads.

Sen. Wolk told me my idea was good. She thought there was a chance it could get support in the Legislature, but not this year, because of the election.

The senator said she well understands the crisis of crumbling local roads, and she said Gov. Jerry Brown understands the problem as well.

Wolk told me that in the governor’s proposed budget, he allocates $100 million toward this problem. Lois nodded in agreement when I said, “That’s hardly a drop in the bucket. $100 million for our entire state is not even one-third the amount that Yolo County needs.”

Currently, we are paying 53.7 cents per gallon in excise taxes on fuels. Of that, 35.3 cents goes to the state, 18.4 to the U.S. government. A 6-cent local levy would bring that up to 59.7 cents per gallon, increasing the cost by about 1.7 percent.

Drivers in California annually consume 14.61 billion gallons of gasoline, and 2.64 billion diesel. The numbers have fallen a bit over the past five years.

A 6-cent local tax would raise about $1.035 billion per year for local roads.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, Californians are now spending $13.9 billion per year on car repairs and operating costs, caused by the woeful conditions of our roads. That’s $586 per driver.

We need good and safe roads. Not maintaining them is foolish.

— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at Lxartist@yahoo.com

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