After posting up a picture of a San Bernardino County Fire Truck that lay on it’s side in a river of mud about 30 feet below the freeway surface, I got a flurry of comments on my Facebook Page from people criticizing me for blaming California’s elected leaders for what Mother Nature did.
That picture and the dramatic footage of the Studio City sinkhole that swallowed two cars have done what California’s infrastructure hawks couldn’t do for a decade: forced the question. Those graphic images combined with the near catastrophic failure of the Oroville Dam—did more to make the public pay attention and care about the condition of California’s roads, bridges and dams than decades of warnings.
According to an LA Daily Breeze story, it’s been a wake up call for politicians and the public alike, but one California Democrat, state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, is pushing a proposal to raise $6 billion in new money by raising gas taxes.
Beall has proposed boosting the per-gallon gas tax by 12 cents, the diesel excise tax by 20 cents and the sales tax by 4 percent, plus enact an annual $100 fee on zero-emission vehicles.
“I’m not surprised by any of this that is happening right now because we have been delaying maintenance everywhere,” said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Southern California Association of Governments.
Former San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris quickly drew the same conclusion.
“I guess that’s testimony of the amount of maintenance needed in California,” Morris told the Breeze by phone.
“When you get rainstorms like we’ve experienced over the last several weeks, suddenly reality sets in,” he said.
State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, termed the damage a wake-up call – and symbol.
“It’s symbolic that we’re not paying attention to infrastructure,” Stone said. “It’s a symptom of a greater problem. It all comes down to neglect.”
Even some Democrats are willing to concede that infrastructure must become a priority.
Former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale admitted that the storm damage reflect the lack of attention California leaders have given to transportation lately.
“Some of it is human nature,” Gatto said.
He said public officials, like everyday people, often react to problems and challenges rather than plan for them in advance.
“But you can’t attribute all of this to human nature,” he said. “We need a little more forethought in our state.”
Perhaps this rare note of agreement by both parties can lead to action.
Getting back to even will be daunting.
Ikhrata said a recent analysis estimated there is a 10-year, $296 billion backlog of maintenance for the state as a whole, and a $190 billion backlog for the six counties the association represents.
“This is just to bring the system up to par,” he said.
A Few Suggested Solutions:
- We need to pass a budget that reflects and prioritizes our actual priorities.
- Gov’t doesn’t exist to give everyone a cushy job and a retirement, so renegotiate every contract starting with our elected officials from the top down, and include every single state employee, union and non-union alike, get rid of duplicate agencies, and cut down the number of regulations so you can fire a lot of the unnecessary regulators, saving money.
- Cut off every penny of direct and indirect aid that is taxpayer-funded to illegal aliens. If people want to help them, let them do it with their charity, not our infrastructure dollars.
- Figure out the savings from above actions and invest it from the general fund (not more borrowed bond money) into the most critical infrastructure projects in the order of urgency
- Dams, Waterways, Bridges, Roads only, not enviro-pork or politician’s pet projects like high speed rail, or sand dunes in Pismo or bike paths in San Diego.
That’s what I’d do to start. Lots of other things need to be done, but if we stopped spending so much money on things that Gov’t was never intended to do, we could begin an aggressive campaign to update, repair, and expand our infrastructure (much like they did in the 1940’s and 1950’s to sustain the 38 Million Californians who now live here. It’s not complicated, but it would require some hard choices.
Tim Donnelly is a former California State Assemblyman, who ran for CA Governor in 2014. His first book, Patriot Not Politician: Win or Go Homeless exposes the endless corruption within California’s dysfunctional legislature. You can buy an autographed copy here, or click here to order a standard copy of the book on Amazon.