The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors opted to “reconsider” rather than “rescind” its Jan. 24 vote of support for the state’s Senate Bill 1 and Assembly Bill 1. Both pieces of proposed legislation, if approved, would raise state revenue for road maintenance and related services through a number of tax and fee increases centering on the state’s gas tax.
The bills are still in their infancy relative to the process of working through the state Senate and Assembly and are far from being finalized by legislators. For that reason primarily, supervisors decided to hold off on sending letters of support to the bills’ sponsors, Sen. Jim Beall and Assemblyman Jim Frazier.
On Feb. 7 District 4 Supervisor Michael Ranalli recommended the board reconsider its earlier 4-1 vote, noting that the bills “have a pretty significant impact on our county and I wasn’t cognizant of that impact.” He also noted that SB 1 was amended on Jan. 26, two days after supervisors approved the support letters, and advised that legislators could well be expected to make more changes before either bill becomes law.
While the statewide increase in taxes and fees would provide an estimated $10 million or more to the county mainly for road maintenance, the legislation could also cost local motorists a considerable amount of money at the gas pump.
“I feel we don’t know enough about how they will ultimately be passed, how we will track and monitor them until we have a process to (follow up),” Ranalli said. “We’re in a horrible position, mostly not from our own actions.
“I recommend we take a ‘watch’ position,” he added. That is, watch the progress of the bills for a few weeks or months to better understand the potential costs and benefits of their passage.
As previously reported in the Mountain Democrat, Ranalli sent out an e-mail last week explaining his concerns over the board’s original action:
“Neither AB 1 nor SB 1 has been scheduled for their first legislative hearings as part of the 2017-18 legislative session,” Ranalli wrote. “As such, there has been little, if any, opportunity for the general public to have knowledge of their existence or the specifics within the proposals at this early date.”
That the item was added to the board’s Consent Agenda via an addendum “further limited the general public’s awareness of the proposed legislation,” Ranalli added. “The general public has not had appropriate opportunity to review the proposals and provide comments to (the) Board of Supervisors.”
The email further describes a dilemma for the county and possibly other local jurisdictions: The county has no formal process in place for following proposed legislation throughout its life from proposal to passage or rejection. Ranalli recommends the board consider adopting some sort of capability to monitor proposed legislation, including hearing dates, amended language and the like. He said it should be part of the county’s Strategic Plan Good Governance element.
“Monitoring takes resources we may not have,” board Chair Shiva Frentzen advised Tuesday. “Is there another solution out there to deal with bills?”
Ranalli responded, “One other option is don’t support anything (such as the state bills). If the voters don’t approve, we’re just where we are now.”
District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel weighed into the discussion, saying, “We have to do something. The state budget is woefully inadequate (for our road maintenance needs.) We’re the seventh largest economy in the world and we have potholes we can’t even drive around. We need to go to Sacramento and fight; this is not acceptable.”
Absent sufficient and reliable funding from the state, District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl raised the issue of public safety and suggested, maybe with tongue in cheek, “We could post signs on our roads saying ‘travel at your own risk.’”
Laurel Brent-Bumb, chief executive officer of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, told supervisors that both the county and the El Dorado Hills Chamber oppose the state bills.
Former candidate for District 2 supervisor, Dave Pratt, said he agreed with Ranalli’s position, adding that the county needs to “state its position regarding the need for reliable revenue.” He added that residents need “regulatory relief” and urged the board to “be bold.”
Securing reliable road maintenance funding “is going to take something dramatic,” former DOT engineer Kris Payne advised. “This is the world we’re in; watch out that what you support becomes evil.”
An El Dorado Hills resident suggested, “Lots of rural people don’t want their roads fixed in order to keep people out; only support bills if you know where the money will be spent.”
District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp characterized much of the issue as political. “We (supervisors) are involved with these issues sometimes every week and we take for granted that the people are up to speed on them like we are,” he said.
Following that, Veerkamp moved to have the board reconsider its support for the bills and direct staff to study the issue of taking a “watch” position into the near future.
Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton assured that the letters would not be sent before the board has convened a budget workshop sometime in April and accepted the direction to prepare a study of a “watch” position. Supervisors adopted the motion unanimously.