George Boardman: Here’s one way Donald Trump could ruin Jerry Brown’s day
June 18, 2017
Observations from the center stripe: Big money edition
TWO POINT nine million dollars seems like a lot of money just to fill a hole in Grass Valley … IT DOESN’T take much to get soccer fans excited because not much that’s exciting happens in a soccer game … IF YOU’RE poor enough, you can get Amazon Prime at half price. But if you’re poor, shouldn’t you be shopping at Wal-Mart? … HOW COME none of the big manufacturers ever marketed Holy Smokes cigarettes? … TRUTH IN advertising: Fox News is dropping its “Fair and Balanced” slogan …
Some members of the California Republican Party see a chance for history to repeat itself, hopefully with a better outcome than last time. Since this is California, cars are also involved again.
The hope comes from a recent Berkeley/IGS poll that shows residents of the Golden State are deeply unhappy with the $52 billion transportation-funding program strong-armed into law by the Democrats who control the levers of power in Sacramento.
The new law increases the sales tax on diesel from 16 to 36 cents a gallon, gasoline from 18 to 30 cents a gallon, and boosts vehicle registration fees by $25 to $175 based on the value of the vehicle. Money raised over the next 10 years will be used to repair the state's crumbling transportation infrastructure.
Californians like the idea of improving our highways, but not the way Gov. Jerry Brown and his allies in the legislature decided to fund the work. The Berkeley/IGS poll showed that 58 percent of those surveyed oppose the measure, while 35 percent favor it. Voters in all major regions of the state except the Bay Area, all listed races and ethnic subgroups, and all age categories over 30 are unhappy about it.
Approval of members of the legislature has taken a nosedive, and Democrats in closely contested districts could pay a political price for raising taxes. "That's where you might see it rear its head — in competitive districts," said poll director Mark DiCamillo.
Senator Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, a freshman who won by fewer than 2,500 votes, faces a recall in his Southern California district for supporting the measure, and Republicans are trying to qualify a measure repealing the taxes for the state ballot.
The GOP is clearly hoping for a reprise of 2003, when Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was recalled for, among other things, re-imposing a hated vehicle registration fee. (Of course, that recall brought us Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, reminding Republicans that you have to be careful what you wish for.)
But the state's Republicans better step carefully because they might find themselves bucking President Donald Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure program to revitalize America. They wouldn't want to do that, would they?
The $1 trillion program Trump's been talking about since last summer isn't quite what people assumed it would be. The president is now proposing to spend $200 billion over 10 years on programs to encourage greater use of financing from private investors. The administration says the funding will leverage a total of $1 trillion in spending to fix and build roads, bridges, dams and broadband lines.
And where will most of that $200 billion come from? The administration plans to encourage cities and towns to raise fees — like roadway tolls or water-usage charges — that will provide the revenue streams for private equity investors. How's that for passing the buck.
Trump wants to get the ball rolling by privatizing the air-traffic control system, an idea that's died in the past because of fears small airports in rural areas will be ignored by private investors. The same fear extends to other aspects of the program. Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the plan shouldn't require tolls on lightly traveled highways in his state of Wyoming, the least populous in the nation.
The White House said the president's plan would include federal grants for bridges, roads and waterways in rural areas. That's enough to get Rep. Doug LaMalfa on-board, who sees an opportunity to expand Interstate 5 between Anderson and Redding. That doesn't mean it can't become a toll road in the future.
Trump also suggested in a recent interview that he might be willing to raise the federal gas tax — anathema to conservatives for many years — as one alternative way to fund an infrastructure package. Several Republican leaning states — including Tennessee, Utah, Georgia and South Carolina — have raised their own gas taxes to fund highway repairs.
Trump views infrastructure spending as a way to perform needed work that will strengthen the economy and put people to work, the same rationale Brown used to justify California's tax increase. (Who said these guys can't agree on anything?)
Thus, California is in the vanguard of states demonstrating how the president's funding model might play out. We have to think big when it comes to transportation infrastructure because we have over 27 million vehicles on our roads — that places us in the top 10 among nations — and almost 400,000 lane miles of streets and highways to maintain. With the state's population rapidly approaching 40 million, more roads will be needed in the future — either that, or the bullet train.
It's not inconceivable — heck, nothing's inconceivable with this president — that Trump will point to California as a shining example of a state paving the way for investments by big bucks infrastructure funds. Saudi Arabia recently invested $20 billion in such a fund, raising the possibility of road tolls flowing to Arab oil sheikhs in the future. Talk about closing the loop.
So California Republicans better tread carefully in their desire to derail the governor's farsighted infrastructure program. Trump just might point to Jerry Brown's plan as a shining example of priming the infrastructure pump.
Of course, that would probably ruin Brown's day.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at email@example.com.
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