All agree that the roads desperately need revenue yet new funds from the increased budget were not directed to the roads. It’s been that way for some time – transportation infrastructure pretty much ignored by general funds instead relying on shrinking targeted funds. Shorting revenue for a vital service can set up a play for more taxes for that service. It’s happened before in California.

Two years ago, Bloomberg Business ran a lengthy, celebratory piece on Jerry Brown and his governorship. In essence, the writer argued that Brown found a solution to California’s funding problem by cutting programs until it hurt so that voters felt they had to raise taxes.

One gets the sense a similar approach is building support for transportation funds through fees and/or taxes.

Here’s what the article argued:

To get tax-hating Californians to vote to raise their own taxes, Brown became Governor Gloom. If the tax-cutters’ theory was to cut taxes so much we’d have to shrink government, he was going to shrink government so much that people would raise taxes. In addition to schools and community colleges, he would cut medical programs, aid to the disabled, and child health care. “Our breakthrough came because of the breakdown,” he says. “There were more layoffs, more pink slips, more agitation. Cutting was very conducive to the success of Prop 30.” In short: Jerry Brown scared the crap out of people.

Concluding the piece, the author wrote:

So that’s his theory: cut, cut, cut until the people can’t take it anymore. Then inspire them with stories of what government can do.

Let’s be clear that ignoring transportation funding needs goes back much farther than Brown’s current governorship. The deficit for transportation infrastructure is so great that it is not a case of cutting that caused the crisis. Over the course of many years, transportation funding was not adequately met even in good budget years. In essence, this situation amounts to a similar situation as described in the Bloomberg piece, although it certainly extends prior to Brown regaining the governor’s office. This crisis falls on past governors and legislators, too. The government did not fund the transportation system while often putting monies into new programs.

Not adequately funding the roads has led many to call for new taxes despite record budgets. Deprive, deprive, deprive transportation infrastructure instead of cut, cut, cut until the people can’t take it anymore.

The idea of moving current revenues to roads has been argued for a long time. In fact, 27 years ago Paul Gann and I were co-proponents of Proposition 72, which, among other things, directed state sales taxes on fuels to roads and highways. It was defeated.

The need for more transportation money is even greater now than it was when we tried to direct money for that purpose in 1988. Current proposals in the special session also would require certain funds to be dedicated exclusively for transportation purposes. But, a fair question to ask: Will an echo of Prop 30 strategy as described in the Bloomberg article end in a like result of a tax increase?