SACRAMENTO — The Assembly passed and sent to the Senate on Monday legislation backed by Gov. George Deukmejian that would give California's counties authority to ask voters to increase local sales taxes by up to a penny to finance road construction or transit projects.
The measure, expected to be approved by the Senate and signed by Deukmejian, potentially could raise $1.3 billion annually for local transportation systems if voters in each county agree to boost their local sales tax, according to estimates by legislative committee consultants.
Various studies indicate that local governments need to spend between $400 million and $1.7 billion more a year on maintaining local streets and highways.
The legislation, authored by Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Chula Vista), passed on 64-10 vote with little discussion.
Los Angeles County, which already imposes an additional half-cent sales tax, would be allowed to boost the tax another half-cent, to seven cents for each $1 in sales.
Santa Barbara, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and San Diego counties would be allowed to ask voters for the full-cent increase because they currently do not impose an extra tax.
Voters in two California counties, Alameda and Santa Clara, have already approved the full additional one-cent increase as the result of earlier legislation. Because the bill limits the increase to a penny, the tax can go no higher in those counties.
Under the bill, the sales tax levies would have to be approved by two-thirds of voters in each county.
Before each election, a transportation expenditure plan would have to be approved by local boards of supervisors or agencies designated by the boards.
Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), who carried the legislation in the Assembly, said he hopes the state will continue to provide the bulk of support for the state's transportation system. He described his bill as only "a partial answer" and emphasized, "The state needs to be doing more. It's still responsible for the overall system."
The bill is part of Deukmejian's transportation plan, which also includes other legislation that would raise $2.3 billion over the next five years through general obligation bonds. County transportation agencies would be allowed to use the revenues generated through local sales tax levies to apply to the state for matching grants.
The measure would also provide a uniform sales tax policy for all counties. Many counties have been petitioning the Legislature separately for the authority to call an election to raise local sales taxes. Just Friday, Deukmejian vetoed legislation that would have allowed Sacramento County to ask voters to raise the tax, citing the need for uniform statewide legislation.
Speaking for the governor, Deputy Press Secretary Donna Lucas said, "We think this will be an overall remedy to all the pending legislation."
Money raised through local sales tax elections could be used for streets, highways or fixed guideway systems.