Bad roads and mind-numbing traffic. Berkeley residents know them well. Today, they will join with millions of voters statewide to decide whether Proposition 42 provides an answer.
The proposition would put a constitutional amendment in place dedicating all state gas taxes, starting in 2008, to transportation projects. Currently, gas tax revenues go into the general fund, and can be used for a variety of purposes, although the legislature has elected to dedicate the gas tax to transportation projects from 2003 to 2008. Proposition 42 would make the policy permanent.
Supporters, including construction companies, unions and transit agencies, say the measure would ease a backlog of transportation projects and remove a temptation to spend the money elsewhere.
“The money tends to get diverted here this year, and there next year,” said Nick DeLuca, spokesman for Yes on 42. “It’s a real world mechanism for delivering the money.”
But opponents, including teachers and health care advocates, say the measure would divert funds from education, health care and other vital social services.
They add that Proposition 42, by restricting the use of gas taxes, would limit the legislature’s ability to react to changing circumstances.
“It ties the legislature’s hands,” said State Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley). “When we have budget problems, like we do today, we need as much flexibility as possible.”
But Peter Snyder, vice president of BART’s Board of Directors, which has endorsed the measure, says it is reasonable for voters to expect that the gas tax fund transportation projects.
“If that’s what the people of California want to do, then I have no problem with it,” he said.
DeLuca adds that there is flexibility built into the measure, noting that the legislature could overturn the amendment for a year with a two-thirds vote and the governor’s approval.
DeLuca said the measure would address “a colossal unmet need,” citing a December study, commissioned largely by the construction industry, which rates California roads the worst in the nation.
If passed, the measure would commit 20 percent of funds to cities for road repair and maintenance, 20 percent to counties for the same purpose and 40 percent to the State Transportation Improvement Plan, a five-year blueprint for highway and mass transit projects. Gas tax revenues are projected at $1.4 billion in 2008.
City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the measure does not allocate enough for mass transit, and argued that it diverts money from other pressing needs.
“How can you simultaneously tell transportation folks you’re going to get many, many millions of extra dollars, and not take it from somewhere else?,” he asks.
“We need to make sure the roads are safe,” added Fred Glass, communications director for the California Federation of Teachers. “But to me, that’s not as high a priority as making sure the children of the state get a good education.”
But DeLuca says the measure, if it were in place this year, would allocate only a tiny percentage of the state’s budget to transportation.
“It’s not something that will pull the plug on state programs,” he said.
According to a Feb. 21-Feb. 25 Field Poll, 61 percent of voters favored Proposition 42 and 23 percent opposed it. Sixteen percent were undecided.