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Baker, colleagues introduce $6-billion transportation proposal

Aims to fix state infrastructure without raising taxes

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon), whose district includes Pleasanton, joined Republican colleagues Monday to announce a transportation plan which aims at dedicating $6 billion in new funding to address the state's transportation needs without any new taxes or fees.

"In my district, there are four major freeways and highways and five BART stations, all of which are showing wear and congestion strain. Constituents deserve smarter, stronger infrastructure using funds more efficiently," said Baker. "That is what this proposal does. Rather than raising taxes, this proposal reforms how we spend the money we already have and ensures that our transportation funds are being used wisely."

The proposal was introduced in response to the special session on transportation that Governor Jerry Brown called earlier this month. It includes nine specific proposals to fund and repair California's crumbling infrastructure without raising a single penny in new taxes or fees, according to Baker.

The current six existing funds include:

40% of funds in California's Cap & Trade program

The goal of Cap-and-Trade is to offset the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment.

Existing funds from vehicle weight fees

The Vehicle Weight Fee (VWF) is a non-controversial payment made to offset the costs of damage done to our roads by heavy trucks. During the recession, VWF revenue was diverted to purposes other than road maintenance.

Investing half of the governor's strategic growth fund into roads projects

The state budget provides the governor with $400 million a year for projects of his choosing.

Eliminating redundancies at Caltrans

Baker said she supports the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office's (LAO) recommendation to eliminate the 3,500 redundant positions at Caltrans. The LAO reports this will not negatively impact any construction projects.

Eliminating and capturing savings from 25% of long-term vacant state positions

There are many vacant positions in state government that remain unfilled for more than six months, Baker said. Until recently, the law required that any such position be eliminated. While some positions are essential and difficult to fill, the majority are not and, in fact, are intentionally kept vacant so that state agencies can capture the money and spend it elsewhere, according to Baker. The transportation proposal is for 25% of these vacant positions to be eliminated, using the savings to fund transportation projects.

Making a formal commitment in the State Budget General Fund to fund transportation

The last two state budgets grew spending by $8.1 billion and $7.5 billion, respectively. Early indications are that we will have $4 billion more revenue next year, said Baker. According to the LAO, the three-year revenue forecast is such that California can fully fund Proposition 98 and the Rainy Day Fund, and still dedicate $1 billion annually to transportation.

The transportation proposal's policy changes include:

CEQA relief for highway projects

Relief from abuses of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) could reduce costs and delays associated with highway projects and move transportation projects out of lawsuits and red tape, Baker said. Under the plan, highway projects would be insulated from injunctions. Highway projects could be expedited by prohibiting a court from staying or enjoining a project unless certain specific factors are present (threat to health and safety, Native American artifacts, etc.).

Foster Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) for transportation projects

According to Baker, removing the sunset on provisions authorizing the use of development lease agreements (aka "public-private partnerships" or P3s) for transportation projects will get roads fixed faster. State Bill 2X 4 (Cogdill) (Chapter 2, Statutes of 2009) authorized Caltrans and regional transportation agencies to enter into an unlimited number of P3 agreements for a broad range of highway, road, and transit projects, through December 31, 2016. Deleting this sunset will maintain the flexibility for Caltrans and regional agencies to leverage private investment in project design, construction, and operation, said Baker.

Get the politics out of transportation projects; restore CTC independence

By removing the California Transportation Commission (CTC) from the Executive Branch, it restores its status as an independent body, according to Baker. The Governor's Reorganization Plan No. 2 (GRP2) of 2012 changed the CTC from an independent agency to an entity within the newly created Transportation Agency. Baker said, keeping CTC under the control of the Secretary of Transportation frustrates meaningful oversight of the administration, and creates the potential for politicization of transportation funding decisions.

"I hear from constituents everyday who ask our government not to continue requesting more money from them until we start spending state resources more prudently, and that is exactly what this proposal does," Baker said.

The assemblywoman's remarks from the press conference are available online.

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