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Governor Calls Freeway ‘Summit’ : Seeks Help Developing Plan for Financing New Highways

Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Calling for “bold action to unlock the gridlock on our freeways,” Gov. George Deukmejian on Thursday invited 27 leaders of business, labor, government and the Legislature to a “transportation summit meeting” to begin developing a plan to raise more money for highway construction.

Deukmejian said his goal is to draft a proposal to offer voters in 1990. The plan seems likely to include a combination of bond funding, which the governor favors, and a gasoline-tax increase, which is gaining support in the Legislature.

But Deukmejian, speaking at a Los Angeles press conference, vowed unequivocally to veto any legislation that would raise the gasoline tax without the voters’ approval. Such a measure, to raise the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon, was proposed in Sacramento on Wednesday by Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco).

While acknowledging a serious need for more highway construction money, Deukmejian said the “summit” in his office on Feb. 8 should also consider how to “make better use of the existing transportation system.” He mentioned more car-pooling, use of mass transit, staggered work hours and “restricting commercial truck traffic on our freeways during peak hours in urban areas.”

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Elaborating on why he believes trucks should be banned during rush hours, Deukmejian said that “whenever there is a major accident involving a large commercial-type vehicle, it takes much longer to remove the vehicles that are blocking the traffic.” Also, he continued, “we should try to get more of a 24-hour use of the existing system” by running big rigs at night when commuters are at home.

But the idea of truck bans needs to be discussed “very thoroughly” with truck owners and with businesses that send and receive goods, he added. Any such plan must be “feasible” and will require legislation, he said.

There already are rush-hour truck bans in some parts of the state, including the Pasadena Freeway north of downtown Los Angeles, California 1 in Ventura, California 163 through Balboa Park in San Diego and Interstate 580 in Oakland.

A Caltrans spokesman said that trucks make up an average of 8.3% of the total vehicles on Los Angeles freeways. But he added that one-fourth of the hours of congestion in the state’s major metropolitan areas--Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego--is caused by truck accidents.

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Deukmejian sent invitations to his “summit” to representatives of regional transportation commissions and local governments, highway user groups, business associations, organized labor, his own Administration and legislative leaders of both parties.

Last year, Deukmejian proposed a $1-billion transportation bond issue that voters narrowly rejected. The governor said on Thursday that he still favors bonds--which never before have been used to build California highways--because they “spread the cost throughout the entire state and I think everybody benefits from an improved transportation network.”

Deukmejian said he generally opposes increasing the gasoline tax because it “falls most heavily on low-income individuals.” He added that “people already have very high transportation costs--whether it’s for car payments, whether it’s for insurance, maintaining the vehicle, buying the gasoline. . . . It’s already a very large percentage of a family budget.”

But, emphasizing his willingness to compromise, the Republican governor said: “I’m going to be willing to sit down and I’ll argue my point. Others will argue their point. And I hope we’ll be able to come together and reach some kind of accord.”

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The state is facing a deficit of at least $3.5 billion in its five-year, $14-billion transportation improvement plan. If new funding sources are not found within 18 months, official say, the result will be delayed projects and reduced highway maintenance.

On another subject, Deukmejian defended his proposed budget cutbacks in programs that serve the poor and women, including a freeze in welfare benefits and elimination of state funding for family planning. He reiterated his complaint that money that ordinarily would have gone to these programs now must be spent on public schools because of Proposition 98.

Anyway, he said, California recipients in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program receive “the second-highest level of benefits in the nation.” And family planning programs can “get funds from other sources,” he said.

Deukmejian also explained why he advocated in his State of the State address Monday that the governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket, as the President and vice president do. Twice recently, Californians have elected a governor from one party and a lieutenant governor from another.

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While he has “had a good professional relationship” with Democratic Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, Deukmejian said: “We’re poles apart philosophically and politically. It’s not unexpected that I would not turn to him to help us carry out some of our policies and programs. I just think it would be so much more beneficial to the public to have a person holding that (lieutenant governor’s) office who was far more involved. . . .”

Deukmejian said candidates should run separately for their party’s nominations--as they do now--and then join as a ticket in the general election.

On another matter, the governor said he changed his mind and decided to support moving upthe date of California’s presidential primary because “political leaders feel California should play more of a role” in selecting the nominees.

Deukmejian said he assumed that during presidential campaign years there would be three state elections--an early presidential primary, a regular June primary for state candidates and a November general election. But the governor said he would prefer holding the state primary closer to the November election, perhaps in September. “It might cut down on some of the campaign costs,” he said. “Our whole election period is much longer than it needs to be.”

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