The author of a controversial gas tax bill assured local officials Friday that Kern County won’t be punished because all of its state legislators voted against the legislation.
“It doesn’t matter to me how people voted,” state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, told contractors and local transportation officials at a forum hosted by the Kern Minority Contractors Association. “I don’t care. I care about the people of California.”
Beall’s bill, SB 1, would provide $5 billion annually in new state transportation funds statewide through a gas tax and vehicle registration increase for mostly road repairs. That money, Beall said, would be allocated around California and to communities based on a formula. The bill is currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
The League of California Cities estimates Bakersfield will receive $2.6 million this fiscal year, around November, for road rehabilitation and maintenance if Brown signs the bill. Next fiscal year, 2018/2019, it predicts Bakersfield will nab another $6.9 million.
While $3 billion in SB 1 money will go to fix state and local roads, namely taking care of the backlog of road repair projects, the rest of the funds will go to other projects like relieving congested commuter corridors.
That’s where Bakersfield’s ongoing Thomas Roads Improvement Program projects can receive more funding.
“You’re ready to go,” Beall said. “I learned that you are ready, willing and able to do the projects.”
That comment came after city and county transportation officials showed off county projects, TRIP’s Centennial Corridor and Get bus station improvements.
Beall emphasized that the bill also includes a requirement that the construction workers hired be local, and to encourage local hiring, there is $5 million for apprenticeship programs to train young people in building trades.
“I worry about jobs not going to Californians,” he said. “One of the places I was really thinking of was Bakersfield.”
After the state senator spoke to KMCA, he met with local public works and transportation officials to discuss and address any issues they have with the bill.
Some of their concerns included wanting a mandate in writing that minority contractors be used on projects and that pots of money can be used for local projects that don't involve road repair.
Infrastructure helps the economy in general, Beall also said, and Bakersfield’s location is perfect for being a transportation hub.
“You guys don’t understand what a sweet spot you’re in,” Beall said.