Looking east from the West El Camino Avenue overcrossing, construction workers grind up the original, 1960s-vintage concrete of Interstate 80 in Sacramento as part of a project to expand the busy freeway’s capacity. A few miles away, in the state Capitol, officials have been trying to put together a package of financing to upgrade highways and other transportation facilities. Randy Pench rpench@sacbee.com
Looking east from the West El Camino Avenue overcrossing, construction workers grind up the original, 1960s-vintage concrete of Interstate 80 in Sacramento as part of a project to expand the busy freeway’s capacity. A few miles away, in the state Capitol, officials have been trying to put together a package of financing to upgrade highways and other transportation facilities. Randy Pench rpench@sacbee.com

Dan Walters

Observations on California and its politics

Dan Walters

Lame-duck legislative session to raise transportation funds fades

By Dan Walters

dwalters@sacbee.com

November 21, 2016 10:26 PM

For weeks, key officials, their staffs and stakeholders have noodled around with bringing the Legislature back to Sacramento for a post-election session on financing much-needed upgrades to highways, local streets and transit systems.

However, with just days remaining, officially, in the 2015-16 biennial session, and no acceptable compromise in sight, the prospect is fading fast.

Gov. Jerry Brown called a special session on transportation (which also expires Nov. 30) to highlight the issue and proposed a package of fees and taxes.

Several alternative versions have since surfaced as advocates tried, so far in vain, to assemble two-thirds legislative votes that new taxes require.

The Nov. 8 election produced a two-thirds Democratic supermajority in the Assembly and, depending on the final count in one very close race in Southern California, the Senate could have the same margin.

That would indicate that legislative leaders could just wait to act until the 2017-18 session begins Dec. 5. However, they haven’t nailed down unanimous Democratic backing and appear reluctant to force newly elected Democratic members to vote for new taxes right off the bat.

That’s why a lame-duck session in November was appealing. They’ve hoped that several of the Republican legislators either forced out of their seats by term limits or defeated for re-election, and therefore shielded from political kickback, would defy GOP dogma and support new taxes.

A couple of weeks ago, it appeared likely that the Legislature would return, but it’s now unlikely, and the calendar is one factor.

Proposition 54, which voters endorsed this month, requires any bill to be in print and published on the internet at least 72 hours before a final vote – and the Legislature has been advised to assume it took effect immediately.

Counting back, it’s believed that a complete transportation bill would have to be introduced no later than Friday to be legally considered in a lame-duck session – and perhaps by Wednesday, since legislative offices are supposed to be closed on Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving.

Last week, the Fix Our Roads Coalition and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, sounded the alarm about the rapidly declining chances for a lame-duck session.

Frazier said his measure, co-authored with Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, “started as a $7.4 billion package (and) is now a $6 billion comprehensive, adult-in-the-room approach that delivers billions in annual transportation funding and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, many of which are good-paying union jobs that will grow and expand our middle class. It also includes all-important reforms to ensure transparency and accountability when using these funds.”

“The senator and I have worked tirelessly to address a multitude of concerns and still keep this bill a pure and focused funding proposal that (addresses) our core needs of infrastructure and jobs,” Frazier continued. “I am hopeful that those few holdouts in the Legislature will join us in developing a final proposal.”

His hopes withstanding, time is running out – fast.