Mayors urge Schwarzenegger to spare cities

June 9, 2009 5:56:48 PM PDT
Mayors from around California converged on the Governor's Office with a crystal clear message: don't touch our money. If he does, they say, city streets all over California will be much less pleasant to drive.

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Every time you buy gasoline, you pay 18 cents a gallon in state excise tax. Three cents of that goes to local cities to pay for pothole fixes and other road repairs.

But Governor Schwarzenegger plans to seize that money to balance the state budget -- $750 million in each of the next two years.

The mayors of California's top 10 cities are angry, especially since they claim it was sneaked into the governor's budget at the last minute.

"And when they knew that the gas tax was a proposal and never mentioned it, hey, they are not dealing straight with us, and that I think, has to end," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The mayors say they will have to ship money from their already broke treasuries like public safety to make out for the funding loss.

"And if we are talking about $10 million to our city or thereabout, you are talking about 100 sworn officers. That impacts public safety," said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

The governor was already planning to borrow $2 billion in property tax money from locals. He admits raiding transportation money was a last-minute add, as revenues continue to drop day after day.

"We have made it clear to them that we need every single dollar that is in my budget. And if the legislature has a better idea, they should come with a pencil and paper and show it to me," said the governor.

Most drivers seem very unhappy that their gas taxes are being taken away from sorely needed pothole repairs. California roads already rate as the most dilapidated in the country.

"The cities should stay intact. They are having a hard enough time as it is. Why should the state keep on trying to punish the cities? I don't understand that," said angry driver Alex Vellanoweth.

Unlike the borrowing of property taxes, the state does not have to pay back gas tax money to the cities.

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