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California lawmakers approve fuel tax hike for $52 billion road plan

(Reuters) – California lawmakers on Thursday approved legislation to increase gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees for the first time in decades, to fund an ambitious $52 billion plan to repair the state’s sagging infrastructure.

The legislation heads to the desk of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who urged its support after the Democratic-led state legislature passed it on Thursday with a 27-11 vote in the Senate and then a 54-26 vote hours later in the Assembly.

“The Democratic Party is the party of doing things, and tonight we did something to fix the roads in California,” Brown said during a news conference after the vote. “We got to fix them. It takes real money.”

The measure will increase the excise tax on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon from the current $0.28 and on diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon, among other fees, over 10 years. The money will be used for repairs to roads and bridges as well as for anti-congestion projects.

Owners of electric vehicles, who do not use gasoline and would not pay the gas tax, would have to pay a $100 fee to help repair roads. The fees and taxes should raise about $5.2 billion per year.

The average motorist in California will see costs increase by about $10 a month, according to Democrats, the Sacramento Bee newspaper reported.

Republicans condemned the plan, saying the state’s transportation taxes and fees were already among the highest in the country.

“Democrats want us to pick up the tab for their decades of neglect,” state party chairman Jim Brulte said in a statement. “The liberal Democrat elites are out of touch and Californians should not be used as a piggy bank for the majority party’s failures.”

California’s transportation systems have gone unrepaired and unexpanded for decades, as budget constraints and politics have stymied plans by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Brown, a fiscal moderate credited with bringing the state back from a $27 billion budget gap, has refused to sign on to plans that involve borrowing money, and Republicans and some moderate Democrats have resisted raising gasoline taxes.

But the same Democratic wave that led California to go two-for-one in favor of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last November gave the party a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature, enough to pass new taxes without Republican support.

The deal won support of construction companies and labor unions, and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday put up a unified front on what had been the divisive issue of raising taxes.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, editing by Larry King)


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