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'Don't blow it, guys': Gov. Brown warns lawmakers not to hold out support for plan to repair California's roads

On Highway 1 in Big Sur, the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge has buckled. (Robin Abcarian / Los Angeles Times)
On Highway 1 in Big Sur, the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge has buckled. (Robin Abcarian / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday ratcheted up pressure on lawmakers who have not committed to a gas tax increase for road repairs, appearing in the Riverside district of Democratic state Sen. Richard Roth, one of the holdouts, and calling for legislators to step up and act.

With a self-imposed deadline for a vote just two days away, Brown warned that if legislation raising $52 billion over 10 years is not approved this year, the cost of repairing the same crumbling roads and bridges could grow to $100 billion in five years, creating a deeper “hole” to dig out from.

“Now is the time — and don’t blow it, guys,” Brown said in a message aimed at legislators. “I’m going off to my ranch” at retirement. “You’re going to be driving on these damn roads. Fix them now, or we may never get them fixed.”

During the rally Tuesday at Riverside’s North Park, Brown was critical of Republicans who he said are afraid of the political fallout of voting for tax increases even though the money is needed.

“I can tell you the Republicans in Sacramento want to fix our roads. They love the idea,” Brown said. “They just don’t want to be associated with the bill because it has money in it. I think they expect the Tooth Fairy to pay the $5 billion every year.”

Brown was joined at the rally by co-authors of the bill, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) and Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), as well as several city council members and other public officials from Riverside County.

De León also addressed colleagues who have criticized the plan.

“We are beyond the point where all you do is bluster and rhetoric,” the Senate leader said.

Others present at the rally included Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington, Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Tavaglione and Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey.

“California roads are deteriorating so we’ve got to fix them,” Brown said.

The measure by Brown and legislative leaders would increase the base gas tax by 12 cents per gallon, add a 20-cent tax to diesel fuel, implement an annual vehicle fee averaging $51 and charge electric cars a new $100 fee.

With Brown and legislative leaders pressing for a vote on Thursday, Roth said Tuesday that he remains undecided on the bill.

"I'm still looking at it,” he said in an interview in his Capitol office. “The issue is, how is Riverside County going to benefit from SB 1?”

Roth noted that other groups have come out against the measure since it was unveiled last week.

“We now have the environmental justice community upset down there because of certain modifications to the bill that I was not involved with, so I am looking at the bill and the amendments and I haven’t decided," he said. "We’ll just have to see.”

The senator was unfazed by the pressure coming from the governor’s appearance in his district.

“We always invite the governor to come down and see us in western Riverside County. From my perspective he isn’t down there enough,” Roth said, smiling.

A spokesman for state Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) said he also remains undecided on the bill, even though Brown held a news conference in his district last week.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres said Tuesday that he plans to vote against the bill, as written, if it comes up on Thursday. He said he was prepared to vote for the bill if it had incorporated a few of his requests, including money to extend a commuter train line that runs from San Jose to Lathrop, so that it would also go to Merced.

"I'm going to vote 'no,'" Cannella said. "How can I support something that doesn't include any of my asks?"

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