California Assembly Speaker Proposes User Fee for Road Repairs

California would spend $10 billion to fix crumbling roads and highways over the next five years under a proposal from a top Democrat that would for the first time include imposing a user fee for drivers.

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, would collect $1.8 billion a year from road users. An additional $200 million for highway repair would come from repaying some transportation loans early.

California, like other U.S. states, is struggling with how to pay for transportation infrastructure as more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles proliferate, causing a drop in gasoline taxes that are most commonly used to pay for maintenance and repairs. Governor Jerry Brown has said the state faces a cost of $59 billion for necessary upkeep and maintenance for its roads, highways and bridges.

“This is the right proposal at the right time. California has overcome a dangerous recession in our very recent past, the present is fiscally stable and looking stronger every day, so now we need to look ahead and help fix the future,” Atkins said. “Addressing transportation funding so we can have better, safer, and faster infrastructure is a key part of fixing the future.”

Atkins said the road user fee would cost drivers about $4 a month for most cars. She hasn’t determined how the fee would be collected, she said.

About $1 billion from the road user fee revenue would be used to repay outstanding transportation bonds approved by voters in 2006. That would free up an equal amount the state now spends from truck weight fees that have been diverted into the general fund to service those bonds.

California currently charges 36 cents per gallon in gasoline tax, an amount that hasn’t increased since 1994 to pay for road work. Cities and counties receive about $1.6 billion from state fuel excise taxes and another $1.5 billion from federal taxes to pay for road maintenance, according to figures from Brown’s budget.

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