PolitiCal

Often starved for attention, Republicans leap into debate over road repairs

It's unusual for Republicans to wield much influence in California's Capitol, but the brewing debate over funding road repairs is an exception.

For starters, Republicans are eager to help find money to fix up the state's dilapidated roads, highways and bridges. But perhaps more important, it's one of the rare issues where votes from the minority party could affect the outcome.

Democratic lawmakers want to use a special legislative session, called by Gov. Jerry Brown to address an estimated $59 billion worth of road problems, to raise gas taxes or create new fees. Generating additional revenue is impossible without support from Republicans because it requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.

So far, Republicans are reluctant to support any taxes or fees, and they've put forward their own plans to use existing funds for roads.

"Sacramento has ignored this problem and mismanaged taxpayers' funds for years, many years," said Assemblyman Eric Linder (R-Corona). "How can we possibly ask taxpayers to trust Sacramento with more of their hard-earned money?"

Assembly Republicans released a $4.4-billion proposal on Monday; their Senate counterparts detailed a $3-billion blueprint last month.

Both caucuses want to use revenue from the cap-and-trade program, which charges fees to polluters and was recently expanded to include transportation fuel. In addition, they want to tap existing fees on truck drivers, which were redirected to the general fund during the state's budget crises.

Republicans in the Assembly also want to eliminate 3,500 jobs at Caltrans, the state transportation agency, that legislative analysts identified as unnecessary. Thousands more vacant positions across state government would be cut as well, and all of the savings would be put toward roads.

As the special session gets underway, it's still possible that Republicans will support some new revenue.

For example, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of San Dimas expressed interest in a proposal from Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) that includes a new annual $100 fee to owners of electric cars, making up for the fact that they don't pay any gas tax.

“Just because they’re politically correct cars doesn’t mean we should subsidize them at the expense of everyone else," Huff said.

Follow @chrismegerian for more updates from Sacramento

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