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State legislators approve $52-billion transportation plan to repair California's ailing roads

 (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

After a nail-biter vote in the Assembly, the $52-billion transportation package cleared the Legislature late Thursday night and now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

"Members, it's been a long, crumbling road to get where we are today," said Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), who helped craft the legislation. 

Frazier cast the measure as "monumental" and balanced between funding public transit and repairing weathered roads.

Republicans were unanimous in their opposition to the measure.

"This is the largest gas tax increase in California history," said Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield).

"My biggest concern is that California is becoming unaffordable," he added.

The measure to generate $5.2 billion annually would raise taxes on both gasoline and diesel fuel. Electric car owners would pay a $100 yearly fee. It also creates a new annual vehicle fee that varies based on the value of the car. 

It passed the Senate earlier Thursday on a 27-11 vote.  One Republican senator, Anthony Cannella of Ceres, voted for the measure.

The bill posed a test of the Democratic supermajority, with members in swing districts wary of casting a politically unpopular vote to raise taxes. Legislative leaders and the governor amped up the arm-twisting in the hours before the vote, negotiating side deals to entice members with projects in their districts.

The scrounging for votes was complicated by the sudden absence of Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), who was hospitalized late afternoon. She returned to the Assembly chambers late Thursday night.

Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced), a key swing vote who signaled his support Thursday morning after Brown agreed to $500 million in commuter train and roadway investments in the northern Central Valley, praised the bill on the Assembly floor as a "package that provides new money so that the state can keep its commitment to local communities that need potholes filled, that needs roads built and maintained."

Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) pointedly accused Democrats on the fence of "being bought off — not personally, but for your districts."

"We're all friends, we're friends," Mayes said. "And I know a week ago, you didn't want to go up on this bill."

The bill was initially short three votes, with one Assembly Democrat, Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield, voting no. After fierce wrangling on the Assembly floor, the bill ultimately cleared with 54 votes, the bare minimum it needed to pass.

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