Late Thursday night, the California State Legislature voted to raise gas taxes to fund critical road repairs throughout the state. The vote – 27-11 in the Senate, 54-26 in the Assembly – had the bare minimum required to reach the 2/3rds majority required for a tax increase. The votes took place shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown met with Senate Democrats behind closed doors during a recess from the floor session while votes of wavering lawmakers were secured with nearly $1 billion in one-time allocations from this year’s budget to projects in their districts. The legislation increases the gas tax by 12 cents, diesel tax by 20 cents, ties both taxes to inflation, increases vehicle registration fees by $65, and levies a new $100 fee on owners of electric vehicles. Only one Republican voted for the tax plan – Sen. Anthony Cannella of Modesto – while two Democrats opposed it – Sen. Steve Glazer of Richmond and Asm. Rudy Salas of Bakersfield. California is estimated to have over $60 billion in deferred road maintenance and has had to spend emergency repair funds this year to repair infrastructure damaged during the exceptionally wet winter.
State appeals court upholds cap-and-trade program
Los Angeles Times
California’s controversial cap-and-trade program, which has come under fire due to questions about its legality, has been upheld by a state appeals court. Two judges on the panel sided with state officials who argued that the program, which requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, fell within their authority to regulate industry. Business groups had argued that the cap-and-trade system is an unconstitutional tax. The case was first filed four years ago and has cast a shadow over the operations of the program ever since. The decision could still be appealed to the California Supreme Court. There are additional questions whether the program can continue to operate past 2020.
President Trump is considering attaching his $1 trillion infrastructure package to tax reform or healthcare in order to leverage support for his other legislative priorities. In an interview with the New York Times, Trump said he may use infrastructure as a sweetener because it is “so popular” among lawmakers, especially among Democrats, who Trump referred to as “desperate for infrastructure.” Major tax reform has been a priority for Congressional Republicans who wish to use structural changes to offset the cost of a major infrastructure bill. Major construction projects around the country have been floated as possible job-creating projects that will also improve economic performance and growth.
Senate confirms Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court
The U.S. Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, ending more than a year of bitter partisan bickering over the vacant seat on the high court. On a vote of 54 to 45, senators confirmed Gorsuch, a Denver-based judge on the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. He is scheduled to be sworn in by President Trump on Monday.
A first: Schiff flies above the radar
The national spotlight has fallen on Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is looking into possible Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election. Schiff, now in his 9th term, has become a major presence on television news, discussing the approach of the Intelligence Committee to possible Russian influence and the need to maintain the integrity of our electoral system.