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California Legislature

Lawmakers scrap effort to make it easier to pass local transportation taxes

 (Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

An effort to boost the chances of local ballot measures raising taxes for transportation needs was quietly killed Thursday in the state Capitol.

The proposal, which would have ultimately required changing the California Constitution through a statewide vote, was in response to the high hurdle set decades ago for local taxes earmarked for specific projects.

Those kinds of taxes in cities and counties require two-thirds of the vote. The constitutional amendment by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would have lowered the vote threshold to 55% of ballots cast for any transportation proposal.

Wiener argued the long list of local transportation projects lacking funds won't completely be erased by the $52-billion transportation plan signed into law last month. And he pointed specifically to examples like a transportation tax plan in the Bay Area last year that garnered 62% of the vote — still slightly shy of the two-thirds mandate.

While the effort can be brought back before lawmakers adjourn the current session in the summer of 2018, Thursday's action represented a major setback for transportation groups and labor unions that supported it. The measure was opposed by business and anti-tax advocates.

Wiener said he intends to re-introduce the measure in the coming weeks. "We must improve and expand transportation throughout our state, which has suffered from decades of underfunding," he said in a written statement.

Update 1:29 p.m. This story was modified with additional information regarding constitutional amendments and the legislative process.

Update 4:10 p.m. This story was updated with comment from Sen. Wiener.

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