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5-Cent-a-Gallon Increase in State Gas Tax Proposed

Times Staff Writer

Assembly Democrats proposed a hefty increase in the state’s gasoline tax Tuesday to finance an ambitious $21.5-billion transportation program providing for projects ranging from road construction to tree planting.

The proposal by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, called for raising the gas tax 5 cents per gallon and most truck weight fees by 30% in 1990. After that, these taxes would gradually increase, rising every two years for the next decade based on a formula tied to inflation.

By the year 2000, Katz estimated that the state’s gas tax--now 9 cents--would rise to 24 cents a gallon. Consumers also pay federal gasoline taxes of 9 cents and the state’s 6% sales tax.

“Understand that this (proposal) between now and the year 2000 will literally build from a construction standpoint, from a mass transit standpoint and from a road maintenance standpoint every single thing that has been identified as needed in the state of California,” Katz told a Capitol news conference.

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Katz’s proposal includes a technical feature designed to address Gov. George Deukmejian’s opposition to imposing new taxes without voter approval. Although Katz’s bill could be approved by two-thirds majorities in both houses, implementation of the tax increase feature would require voter passage of a constitutional amendment.

That amendment, which will be included in separate legislation, would modify the state spending limit. The tax increase proposal could not go into effect without modification of that limit, which was approved by voters in 1979.

With Brown nodding agreement from a seat a few feet away, Katz said he hopes that the vote on the amendment altering the spending limit would satisfy Deukmejian’s demand that all increases be approved by the electorate.

Deukmejian’s press secretary, Kevin Brett, immediately said it would not, explaining that the governor believes that the tax proposal itself should go on the ballot and not just a constitutional amendment that makes no reference to the tax increase proposal.

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The governor reminded reporters of his opposition to tax increases during a question-and-answer session earlier in the day at the Sacramento Press Club. “If they want to submit a proposal to the electorate and let the people vote on it, I would be willing to consider that,” the governor said.

Deukmejian has expressed similar reservations about a rival Senate proposal calling for a 10-cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax. That measure also does not require voter approval.

In an apparent move toward compromise, Deukmejian has invited lawmakers, local government officials and business and labor leaders to a “transportation summit” Feb. 8 with the goal of drafting a transportation financing plan to be submitted to voters.

The state is facing an anticipated highway construction deficit of $3.5 billion over the next five years.

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Under the Katz-Brown proposal, $21.5 billion would be raised over the next decade. The money would be distributed to a variety of programs, including $9 billion for local street and road maintenance, $6 billion for state highway projects, $1.5 billion for a reserve to cover highway maintenance costs and emergencies, $150 million for highway sound walls, $3.75 billion for mass transit guideway construction and a $100-million program to plant 20 million trees along roads and highways and acquire and preserve environmentally sensitive land.

Katz said grants to local government for mass transit would require that the governments demonstrate their ability to operate more efficiently. To be eligible for state money to help in local street maintenance, he said, cities would also have to adopt plans--such as ride-sharing and the elimination of subsidized downtown parking--to reduce traffic congestion by 25% over the next five years.

The $6 billion for highway construction would be specifically earmarked for projects already included in the state’s five-year transportation plan, the assemblyman said.


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