North Bay transportation-planning officials and local contractors who build such public-works projects are happy the attempted repeal of California's year-old fuel taxes and vehicle fees seemed to run out of gas at the polls Tuesday, amid concerns it would leave major projects running on fumes.
Proposition 6 would have rolled back the taxes and fees of the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, aka Senate Bill 1, and added an additional step of getting voter approval for such hikes, even after a two-thirds vote in the state Legislature and the passage of Prop. 69 in June that limits use of transportation and infrastructure funds to such projects.
Prop. 6 needed a majority of votes Tuesday to pass but appears in the latest preliminary returns to have fallen a little short, with only 45 percent in favor.
Carl DeMaio, chairman of the Yes on 6 campaign, pointed a finger at Sacramento for the way the election went.
“California politicians have been stealing our gas-tax funds for years, and with Prop. 6, California politicians succeeded in stealing our votes by putting a false and misleading title on it," he said. "This fight is not over, and we invite anyone who is upset by the misleading ballot title to join our grassroots movement to hold politicians accountable.”
The California Secretary of State's Office led the title for Prop. 6 on the ballot this way: "Eliminates certain road repair and transportation funding."
Mike Ghilotti, president and owner of Ghilotti Bros., Inc., said he believes the passage of Prop. 6 “is a vote for people who believe in safe infrastructure and greater mobility. … It’s a huge win for commuters in the North Bay.”
One big North Bay project that could have been left on the side of the road from an SB 1-sized hole in California's public-project funding tank is the continued expansion of Highway 101 in Sonoma and Marin counties. In particular, there's the planned addition of high-occupancy vehicle lanes from the Petaluma River north to Corona Road, an $85 million project set for completion in 2023.
But other local Highway 101 work is largely fueled by other funds. For example, widening with HOV lanes in Marin County in a stretch north of Novato called the Narrows is getting its $120 million from Regional Measure 3. In June, voters in the counties around San Francisco approved RM3, which hiked tolls on state-owned Bay Area bridges to pay for transportation projects.
John Bly, executive vice president of Engineering Contractors Association of Northern California, said the $5.4 billion in estimated annual income from SB 1 taxes is "nothing to sneeze at" and called the defeat of Prop. 6 "a huge deal."
“As imperfect as taxing ourselves is, the good that is created from SB 1 funds is visible to everyone that drives our roads, at least in this county," Bly said about Sonoma County. "I’m really proud that this county voted about 70 percent to defeat Prop. 6. With Prop. 6 being defeated, even if there is another recession, $5 billion a year is (already) allocated…. Because of Prop. 69, the state legislators cannot take that money for any other purpose than what it’s intended … for transportation and infrastructure. It’s in a lockbox."