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Senate Leader Dismisses Idea of Using Cap-and-Trade Funds for Road Repairs

"Kevin de Léon 2012" by Neon Tommy - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons
Kevin de Léon in 2012. Image by Neon Tommy - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons
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At a press conference in Sacramento yesterday, Senate President Pro-Tem Kevin de Leon dismissed the idea, floated by Republican legislators and anti-tax advocates, that revenue in the state's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction fund could be used for road maintenance and repair.

“That is not a serious proposal,” said de Leon. “There is no nexus between greenhouse gas emissions and potholes.”

The proposal is part of a package of recommendations [PDF] from Assembly Republicans, who say they will refuse to support raising taxes to pay for what is generally agreed to be a crisis in funding for transportation in California. The Republican package includes finding ways to use existing revenue, including, they say, applying $2 billion in cap-and-trade revenue towards road repair.

“I admit I'm not a lawyer,” said de Leon, “but the thesis behind cap-and-trade is to use the revenue for carbon reduction. Repairing roads contradicts what cap-and-trade funds are for.”

His remarks came on the same day that the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a Special Session committee formed by Governor Jerry Brown to tackle the problem of transportation funding, rejected a bill that would have defunded high speed rail and used any remaining funds for highway and road repair and new construction.

“We do have to repair our crumbling infrastructure,” said de Leon, “and we can grow our economy [at the same time]. We need serious proposals.”

So far proposals considered by the Senate committee have included the one to scuttle high speed rail and another that would have forced Caltrans to reduce its payroll by contracting out an increasing percentage of its work. Those were both defeated yesterday, but the committee did pass a bill that would create the position of Transportation Inspector General to oversee all transportation funding in the state. It also passed a bill from the committee chair, Senator Jim Beall (D-Campbell), that would raise taxes on gasoline and diesel, create a “road access charge” for all vehicles, and require Caltrans to tighten its belt and increase its efficiency by a third.

Because it raises taxes, Beall's bill needs to be approved by two-thirds of the legislature. Although it sailed through this committee, its fate on the Senate floor and in the Assembly is unclear. Senate Republican leader Bob Huff had said a few days earlier that Republican legislators will not support any tax increases.

De Leon expressed surprised at Huff's comments. “He is keenly aware of the need for funds,” he said. “Simply saying 'no taxes' stymies the discussion” before it can get started.

“All solutions are on the table,” said de Leon, “and I hope my colleague Mr. Huff will see the wisdom” of being open to discussing them.

Look for more coverage of the transportation funding discussions at Streetsblog California over the next few weeks.

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