On Tuesday night, the City of Long Beach aligned itself behind a bill winding its way through the state legislature that could provide the city upward of $12 million annually in much needed funding relief to fix the city’s roadways.
With a unanimous vote, the City Council adopted a support position of Senate Bill 16 (SB16), which would increase the gasoline excise tax, vehicle license fees, vehicle registration fees and levy a $100 fee for zero-emission vehicles. It would also take the money raised through the increases and put it back into fixing the state’s roads and highways.
“This bill, we believe, is going to be very good for Long Beach in terms of addressing important infrastructure needs,” Eighth District Councilman Al Austin said. “It will provide a windfall of resources for the City of Long Beach and many other municipalities throughout the state of California. If this bill is successful in Sacramento that means we would more than triple our ability to address infrastructure needs and we know we have them in every district in this city.”
The bill was introduced in December 2014 by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Senator Jim Beall as a short-term solution to the state’s backlog of nearly $60 billion in deferred maintenance, a figure that only figures to grow as roads continue to deteriorate. SB 16 aims to raise about $3 billion annually over the course of five years and would be distributed throughout the state.
“SB 16 will provide more resources for the state to repair the infrastructure under its jurisdiction and it also distributes millions to the local level,” Beall said in a statement posted to his website. “Counties and cities will get much-needed revenues to fix their roads.’’
Under SB 16, everyone who uses the road will pay their share to help maintain it. In addition to the fee for zero-emission vehicles—they are exempt from the gas tax—the per gallon excise tax on gasoline, which hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 1994, will be raised by 10 cents. Vehicle license fees would go up .07 percent annually, vehicle registration fees would increase by $35 and truck weight fees charged to heavy commercial trucks would be taken out of the general fund and put back into road maintenance reserves.
Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo would be one of those hit by the $100 fee for hybrid and electric vehicles. Despite her reluctance to raise taxes, she said the bill would help level the playing field by putting the tax burden on those people who use the roads the most.
“While I am not supportive of higher taxes, I am supportive of correcting the taxation ratios to ensure that those who use the most are the ones who pay the most,” Mungo said.
In a report earlier this year, Director of Public Works Ara Maloyan illustrated the deficient conditions of the nearly 800 miles of streets in the city. Using the pavement condition index (PCI), which rates the relative health of road surfaces, Long Beach registered an average of 63 out of a possible 100.
Maloyan’s report also revealed that with the city’s current backlog of street improvements, it would need to spend an estimated $330 million over the next 10 years to bring road surfaces back up to par and to avoid the backlog of maintenance reaching unmanageable levels.
If passed, SB 16 would provide Long Beach with an additional $10 million to $12 million annually over the course of the five-year program to help heal some of its dilapidated road ways. Because the bill is designed to supplement the city’s spending, not replace it, Long Beach would have to maintain its annual average expenditures on roadways. The city currently invests about $5 million annually in street repairs.
Under the current proposal, Los Angeles County would receive over $300 million to fix both state and local roadways. The City of Los Angeles would get $83 million of the $191 million allocated for local roadways. Long Beach would be infused with about $50 million.
SaveCaliforniaStreets map of Los Angeles County PCI.
Beall introduced the bill as the topic of deteriorating infrastructure and the lack of investment to fix it has become a topic of national discussion. President Barack Obama even took an extended moment during this year’s State of the Union to call for the government to “fix America’s crumbling infrastructure.”
Long Beach is not alone in its growing backlog of cracking streets and lack of funding to fix them. According to a 2014 report from SaveCaliforniaStreets, a group that complies biannual assessments of the state’s road conditions, only two of California’s 58 counties (Orange and San Bernardino) had a PCI score over 70. Additionally, the statewide average PCI had dropped to at risk (PCI 66) and all but four counties statewide had streets categorized as “at risk” or “poor”.
The bill will require a two-thirds vote from the State Assembly and Senate in order to pass and would become effective once Governor Jerry Brown signs it into motion. However, it must pass through the Senate Appropriations Committed before May 29 since it is on a fiscal calendar. In anticipation of it passing, Long Beach has already started dividing management plans, ones that will be presented to council at a later date, to illustrate where funds from SB 16 would be allocated.
Before the council placed their votes and pledged their support to Beall’s proposal, Mayor Robert Garcia remarked on the emphasis that must be placed on SB 16.
“This, in my opinion, is going to be one of the top priorities for cities across the state of California this year,” Garcia said. “Quite frankly, we as a city and community need to put our full weight behind getting this done in Sacramento. There are a lot of bills in the pipeline and probably very few that are more important for cities, in particular Long Beach, than the bill that’s in front of us today.”