Why California's New Infrastructure Plan is a Big Deal

California is not waiting around for Donald Trump's promise of a yuuuuge federal infrastructure injection to become reality. Governor Brown and the leaders of our state legislature joined a coalition of business, labor and local government groups yesterday to announce a $52 billion transportation infrastructure investment, funded with California's clean energy future in mind.

While there are already the usual suspects making noise in the state about "new taxes", the plan will cost the average California driver $10 a month and save the average vehicle $700 a year in damage and maintenance when all is said and done. In addition to modernizing and repairing our roads, highways and bridges and focusing on high traffic corridors, the plan invests an additional $7.5 billion in public transit, and a billion dollars to improve road conditions conducive to walking and biking (*cough* yours truly *cough*).

In all, it raises California's gasoline excise tax by 12 cents per gallon. But before you pass out at the prospect of slightly more expensive gasoline, consider that the excise tax in our state is adjusted yearly by the Board of equalization, and right now, the excise tax is just about 12 cents below what we paid two years ago. The plan would also increase the vehicle registration fee, essentially extending a progressive tax: the higher the price of your vehicle, the more your increase in fee is. $100 a year flat is collected from owners of electric vehicles to pay for road repairs.

In just the context of the state, the infrastructure plan would, at once, discourage the purchase of expensive gas guzzlers, encourage less driving and more transit and biking, and invite more economic development with a world class road infrastructure being added to our unbelievably diverse pool of talent.

Consider that the infrastructure plan will also be part of our state's far-reaching attempt to reduce carbon pollution and address climate change.  Our aggressive advances on fuel standards will eventually raise average fuel efficiency to 54 mpg by 2025. California is already required to produce 50% of our energy from renewable sources by 2030 (and there are rumblings in Sacramento about having our state go 100% green by 2045). Our cap and trade system for carbon emissions is helping us reach these goals.

But there is a bigger implication in what our state is doing. We could not even have imagined this ambitious a plan for our infrastructure were it not for the 2016 elections in the state of California. While the much of the rest of the country was busy fiddling with Trump, California voters not only delivered a mammoth margin for Hillary Clinton but also gave Democrats a two-thirds majority in both the state Senate and the Assembly.

That's important. Because of anti-tax nutjobs' abuse of the California initiatives process (though in 2016 that too backfired as voters approved new taxes to invest in our state up and down the ballot), California can only raise taxes in one of two ways: a voter approved initiative rife for a flood of special interest money, or a two-thirds majority in each house of the legislature. Democrats now have it, and if they hold together, the legislation could soon be on the governor's desk. As Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro-tem Kevin de Leon work to lock up the votes, they have the recent history of California citizens willing to invest in our own state on their side.

It's more than the ability of raising taxes or funding our infrastructure, however. California's big stand is an unmistakable message to Washington: California can - and will - build our own state, set our own standards, and live by our own values. Threatening our state with federal funds when we send more to Washington than we get back, or threatening to roll back our progress on clean energy and climate change will not make us timid; it will make us bold.

And this is not the end. This is the beginning.

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