Transportation Funding Bill Poisoned by Truck Amendment

Would exempt trucks from clean air regulations

Governor Jerry Brown, flanked by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, with S.B. 1 author Senator Jim Beall looking on, touts the new transportation funding agreement.
Governor Jerry Brown, flanked by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, with S.B. 1 author Senator Jim Beall looking on, touts the new transportation funding agreement.

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon stood in front of a large crowd of excited lawmakers, backed by people wearing reflective vests and hard hats, to announce that they had come to a new agreement on a transportation funding package.

They offered few details on the reworked bill, and its new language has yet to be officially released. But after several weeks of intense negotiations, S.B. 1 was looking better and better to people who were pushing for a more sustainable and equitable approach to transportation. For example, the bill now contains more money for transit. The Active Transportation Program is set to receive a sizable chunk of money—at $1 billion, still only about two percent of the $52 billion total, but at least it was firmly in the bill. S.B. 1 maintains a focuses on badly-needed repair and maintenance first, with only some funding going for congestion management, which frequently translates as highway expansion.

It was starting to look like a pretty good deal to sustainable transportation and equity advocates.

Then, at the last minute, a paragraph was inserted that turned it on its head. The amendment, clearly added at the behest of the trucking industry, would exempt trucks from Air Resources Board regulations and allow them to continue polluting without oversight.

“Its apologists are saying that all [the amendment] means is that no trucker who bought or retrofit a truck to comply with ARB rules would have to buy another one within a certain period of time,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air.

But the current unofficial draft language is not exactly crystal clear, and there’s more than room for interpretation.

“What it actually does,” said Magavern, “is undermine the ARB, and a decision just made by the ARB last Thursday” to strengthen its rules on indirect emission sources. “It exempts trucks from that effort.”

“Indirect sources” of emissions include ports, commercial hubs, shipping centers, shopping centers, and similar destinations that attract and thus indirectly encourage “mobile source” emissions from traffic. Many of those emissions come from trucks.

Environmental justice advocates have been pointing out that many of the people living closest to such facilities are low-income people, those most vulnerable to health and economic problems stemming from pollution.

“This dirty truck provision came out of nowhere,” said Amanda Eaken of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who has been actively engaged in negotiations on the funding package. “It’s a really bad last-minute rider that has not been a part of any of the negotiations on this bill for the last two years, and has had no discussion on it,” she said. “This is a cause for major concern.”

“The idea that we need to be polluting our most vulnerable communities in order to fix our roads—I don’t buy that political calculus,” said Eaken. “It’s too high a price.”

“And,” she added, “it’s really out of place. Exempting trucks from clean air rules has no place in a package that’s about fixing roads and improving transit.”

The political calculus is complicated. Because it raises gas and diesel taxes, the bill will need at least 2/3 of the vote to pass. Republicans, who won’t raise taxes, have already made it clear that they won’t support it, even though they say their districts are in dire need of funding to fix roads. If Democrats voted strictly along party lines, the bill could pass easily, but that’s never how it works. In fact, the push for the truck amendment likely came from several Assembly Democrats.

It’s a dirty game. Several Senators have pushed, successfully, for more money for transit, and perhaps others see that win as an opportunity for a horse trade.

Certainly the head of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), does.

He left no question as to his perspective when he summarily killed a bill last year that sought to get representation for disadvantaged communities onto the California Transportation Commission, a body that decides which transportation projects get funded in the state. He called disadvantaged communities a “special interest” and said that, if they were to have representation on the commission, then so too should the freight industry. He declared that the bill in question “would elevate disadvantaged communities and their interests above all others–and we can’t have that.”

A strong transportation funding bill has the potential to begin shifting state funding towards sustainable, equitable, and reasonable transportation forms. It would be too bad if these benefits were undermined by a fight over who is more important, the people who breathe bad air from trucks or the industry itself. The trucking industry can figure out how to abide by air quality rules, and their disagreements with the Air Resources Board about how to do so don’t belong in a transportation funding bill.

But with pressure from all sides to “find a solution” to “fix our roads,” and with Governor Brown urging the legislature to pass the bill before its spring recess, which begins at the end of next week, and with political horsetrading going on at full tilt, the opportunity to influence the conversation is quickly passing by.

A general outline of what the bill contains can be found here.

TransForm has issued a call for action here.

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  • Fred Zimmerman

    I’d like to see a careful analysis of how much this will cost the average Californian.

    A 2013 report from the State Board of Equalization says that in 2010 the average car in California used 453 gallons of gas a year. At 12 cents a gallon, the tax is only $54.36 annually. Even if gas consumption has gone up modestly since then, the yearly cost to drivers is probably still less than $60.

    I really don’t like the idea of charging electric cars 80% more than gas-powered cars.

    • John French

      It’s true that this *increases* fees on electric cars more than it does on gas cars, but don’t forget that the 12¢ is an increase to the existing ~40¢/gallon gas tax, so the typical gas car operator would pay $235 in gas taxes.

  • JustJake

    Before any new revenue sources are considered, voters should demand that all funds stolen/robbed/diverted, in prior legislatures, be returned to dedicated road infrastructure use. Yep, that includes the Billions in truck weight fees that we continue to move elsewhere, while we exclaim about the lack of revenue to fix our roads.

    • Steven Maviglio

      Are you willing to slash all the other programs that this money supports?

      • JustJake

        Programs? Best evidence is the $ goes to propping up the states unsustainable pension & debt expenses.

        And it’s not about slashing, it’s about bait&switch, and repeatedly lying to the public.

        • Steven Maviglio

          Actually state spending for pensions has increased slower than other state spending, which has been largely driven by voter-approved measures to fund education and rising health care costs. I know. Facts are stubborn things.

          • JustJake

            Are you defending misleading voters and redirecting dedicated funds? Then you are part of the problem.

            The states unfunded pension obligations are growing and severely impacting all fiscal aspects.

          • JustJake

            68% funded CalPERS, and still a +7% projected return? When last year the actual return was 0.61%?

            But hey, quote that “increased slower than other spending” crap all day, while the state plays around with funny-number accounting.

            Disaster waiting to happen.

          • Steven Maviglio

            Over the past 20 years, average CalPERS investment returns stand at 7.03%. Like any financial advisor will tell you, invest for the long term.

          • JustJake

            Cute. Denial is your strong suit. History making 2009 recession made your “20 years” stat irrelevant…

          • Steven Maviglio

            Really? The market is going down? That’s news to Moodys and Fitch, which give both CalPERS and CalSTRS among their highest ratings.

          • JustJake

            68% funded and declining, that says it all. But go ahead and serve your kool-aid to the uninformed.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Does this bill fund anything in California’s 22nd Congressional district? If so, I’m 100% against it after what they did to Caltrain.

    • eean

      I like your thinking.

    • Richard

      It repairs and enhances the roads in the 22nd district. State route 99, 180, 168, 41, and 198. It also provides funding for Fresno and Tulare Counties to repair local roads.

      • Jeffrey Baker

        That’s too bad. We should take our queue from Rep. Nunes, who said he doesn’t “feel too bad about 1 of the richest places on the planet not having a train”, and we shouldn’t feel too bad about zeroing out highway funding for one of the most ignorant, backwards armpits in the state.

        • Steven Maviglio

          It affects all of us. High population areas get lots more $ than rural + $ for mass transit, bicycling etc

          • Jeffrey Baker

            Er, I’m sure you didn’t mean that high population areas get more dollars per capita. Do you have data indicating that?

        • StudentLoanPaidinFull

          The vodouist who recently, since not in prison, shot up the Fresno downtown area leaving a total of four white men dead was from, you guessed it, Sacramento.

  • Emily Guerin

    What’s the paragraph that was added?

  • LAdevelop

    I would love to see a Streetsblog analysis of the spending plan in this bill. It’s a little difficult for the layperson to figure out what each category really means (i.e. “$2 billion to support local “self-help” communities that are making their own investments in transportation improvements” or “$1.4 billion in other transportation investments, including $275 million for highway and intercity-transit improvements”).

    • Melanie Curry

      That is coming, as soon as the bill language is published. And the paragraph that was added has not yet been published, so…. we’re waiting to see it, like everyone else.

      • LAdevelop

        Great, thank you!

    • Richard

      The money will be broken up so every level of government gets a bit of it, so they can then dole it out to their supporters/residents.

      “2 billion to support local “self help” communities that are making their own investments in transportation improvements” sounds like it will provide grants to local communities but the grants till require matching funds from the local government. The form of the grants is probably TBD, but that sounds like the general gist.

  • Steven Maviglio

    Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. To get 2/3 vote, there inevitably would be things everyone doesn’t like.

    • Dan Kegel

      Agreed. A limited gesture towards truckers may be worth it if it seals the deal. Likewise, the $100 annual fee for zero-emission vehicles sticks in my craw, but I know why it’s there, and they exempt the first year — which is important for not hurting sales. Let’s support the Gov, he’s being the adult in the room. If only we had him in the White House.

    • Flatlander

      But that’s so easy to abuse…

      There is room for good policy and right and wrong answers. If you have to compromise to get anything done, then everyone will know that they can get special treatment and special goodies by being unreasonable. See: Blue Dog Democrats during the ACA legislation

      • Steven Maviglio

        Yeah and the ACA PASSED providing affordable, quality health care to millions of Americans. If purists on both sides hadn’t comprised, they wouldn’t have had any coverage. You’ve proved my point. Thanks

        • Flatlander

          The ACA was a deeply flawed step in the right direction, that would have been much better had Obama not even tried to negotiate with the right wingers.

          • Steven Maviglio

            You need to check the vote count. Had he not negotiated, there would have been no ACA. That’s my point.

          • Flatlander

            You need to check the vote count. It was passed without a single Republican vote. And the Blue Dogs prevented a better bill by asking for bribes.

          • Steven Maviglio

            Without the Blue Dogs, it wouldn’t have passed. Again, you’re making my point: compromise was necessary.

          • Flatlander

            What you call compromise, I call bribery. That’s why it’s important to stand up for good policy. Because without it, anyone can become a whiny blue dog who insists on special treatment for his snowflake district, and we end up with half-assed measures like the ACA.

          • Steven Maviglio

            I live on Planet Reality. Rather than leaving millions of Americans with no insurance (your object of getting a so-called perfect bill), the ACA is saving lives.

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