Governor sets April deadline to devise road-fix funding plan

FILE PHOTO: Los Angeles city worker Hugo Vasquez shovels asphalt into a pothole in May 2015.
FILE PHOTO: Los Angeles city worker Hugo Vasquez shovels asphalt into a pothole in May 2015.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday repeated his call to earmark hundreds of billions of dollars toward fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

The crisis at the Oroville Dam and winter storms that pummeled California roads are lending new urgency to an oft-repeated message from the governor.

"Look, we’re gonna have a civilization, we’ve gotta pay for it and there’s a lot of spending we’ve been unwilling to [do]. And when the roof is leaking, if you don’t fix it, it will cost more later," Brown said at a news conference in Sacramento.

The Oroville Dam emergency has shed more light on the poor state of California’s infrastructure and the need for immediate fixes. The governor pledged to invest more than $400 million in flood control measures, diverting $50 million from the general fund and asking the legislature to approve $387 million from the Proposition 1 water bond passed by voters in 2014.

But even if those funds are approved, the state still faces a $136 billion backlog of repairs to highways and local streets. The recent rains have only made things worse.

Local officials have been overwhelmed trying to keep up, with the city of Los Angeles receiving quadruple the usual number of pothole reports in January.

The governor and legislators have agreed to an April 6 deadline to figure out a funding plan for transportation repairs. Democrats are pushing for a gas tax increase and an additional $100 per car flat fee to raise $6 billion a year for the roads.

Previous efforts to raise taxes and fees have been stymied by Republicans in recent years, but Democrats now hold a supermajority in both houses, giving them the power to increase taxes without Republican support.

The governor has also submitted a request to the Trump administration for federal infrastructure funding covering 50 priority projects. It’s unclear how accommodating the administration will be toward a deep blue state that has been defying him on several fronts, including on his immigration policies.

"We have to walk a very thoughtful line here in seeking help that we need but also calling attention to those things we object to and fighting vigorously when required," said Brown.

He noted that California makes up 12 percent of the national population and the fates of the state and the federal government are inextricably linked.