In over four decades as a leading California transportation planner, Will Kempton says he’s never seen the state’s roads in worse condition than they are now.
Kemptom, 69, retires this year as executive director of the advocacy group Transportation California. He told reporters that he is “frustrated and disappointed” at the state’s failure to agree on a concrete plan to pay for the critical $136 billion backlog of road repairs. This much-needed plan has been pushed back for decades. While Gov. Jerry Brown assures leaders that legislative members will try again this session, it won’t be an easy discussion.
Also a former Caltrans director, Kempton says that cooperating on any deal requiring tax and fee increases is rough going. Despite road conditions becoming an increasingly dire situation.
“The transportation system is in bad shape,” he said. “We have just underinvested in our transportation infrastructure for decades and it’s coming home to roost. Particularly after the recent storms, our roads are in very, very bad shape.”
To Tax or Not to Tax: The Party Issue
The last time California approved a ballot measure to increase the gas tax for purposes of funding transportation projects was 23 years ago. Previous taxes set for transportation uses lacked automatic increases needed to account for inflation
One of the primary roadblocks to transportation funding is a party disagreement on how best to raise the money. Where state Democrats propose a price-based per-gallon excise tax, fee on zero-emission cars, and an increase in annual registration, Republicans balk at supporting tax increases. Instead, GOP lawmakers back a plan based on a reallocation of existing funds. This includes diversion of money currently used to pay debt on transportation bonds and taking existing vehicle sales, use and insurance taxes.
As Kempton summarized, “Everyone understands that there is a need to be addressed, but the question is how do you pay for that. That’s the challenge facing the Legislature.”
While Democrats did win a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature last election, it still isn’t all smooth sailing. Theoretically, Democrats have the numbers to push through tax increases without relying on Republican votes. However, there are a number of moderate Democrats, including some newly elected, that still need to be won over on the issue.
Bad Road Conditions Cause Injuries & Wrongful Deaths
Whichever the votes fall, it is becoming increasingly apparent an answer, any answer, is necessary for the safety of all Californians. The broken and poorly maintained roads of California are costing taxpayers in property damage, injuries, and even deaths.
On April 22, 2010, 22-year-old Marine corporal Samantha Schultz lost her life while driving on a poorly maintained street in north San Diego County. Two years later, Booth & Kosoff attorneys represented her and her family in court with a wrongful death lawsuit against the County who failed to fix and maintain its roads. The jury ultimately returned an 80% fault against the County and a net verdict of $3,200,000 on behalf of Schultz’s estate for non-economic damages of loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society and moral support.