Californians willing to pay for infrastructure improvements

150 150 Matthew Grant Anson

San Francisco traffic (Photo Credit: Wonderlane/Flickr)

Californians not only believe infrastructure is critical to the economy and quality of life, they are willing to pay for it. So says a recently completed online survey from California Forward which chronicles Californians’ sentiments on priorities and financing options for our state’s infrastructure needs.

The information gleaned from the survey was invaluable. Despite its small sample size of about 200, the findings were in line with other surveys done throughout the state in past years: Californians have demonstrated their willingness to foot the bill for the public good in some way or another.

A whopping 80 percent of survey respondents expressed a willingness to pay at least something to better maintain and improve California’s infrastructure, including paying increased gas and property taxes. Where respondents varied was on how much and by what method everyone should pay. 21 percent of survey takers felt tying who pays to who uses the infrastructure would be the most fair.

“If one uses one element of infrastructure more than others, he/she should support it to a greater degree,” one respondent wrote. “Parents with children in schools should shoulder more of the burden of supporting their school systems than the general public, disabled, or seniors!”

Ten percent of respondents advocated for a more progressive approach, where those that can pay should pay. “Water fees, gas tax, property tax – let’s make them progressive so those who can afford to pay more do so,” one survey taker wrote.

While respondents fell into ideological camps, the important thing to take away from the survey is that, despite disagreements over exactly how infrastructure should be paid for, Californians are willing to pay in some form.

“The real question is now that we know people are interested in investing in transportation and education, whose responsibility is it?” said California Forward’s Fred Silva, commenting on the survey’s results. “Everyone from community government to state government has some kind of role. What we’re doing is trying to figure out an allocation of responsibility.”

Surveys carried out by the Public Policy Institute of California over the last ten years also fall in line with California Forward’s results. A 2008 PPIC study established the importance of roads and other infrastructure to quality of life and economic vitality, with 67 percent declaring infrastructure to be “Very Important.”

Similarly, 2007 survey from PPIC asking if the state should spend more, the same, or less on roads, 54 percent said more, with only 36 percent calling for less. A 2006 survey revealed that 61 percent of Californians thought it was a good idea to use bonds to pay for infrastructure.

But in the grand scheme of California’s future, what does this all mean? People have proven their desire to pay for their infrastructure – where do we move from here?

As our own Fred Silva said, the next step is figuring out how to allocate financial responsibility, a question to be answered at the California Economic Summit. “We’re driven by the notion that some entity, somewhere, has some responsibility for investment,” Silva said. “What we’re doing is trying to figure out an allocation of responsibility.”

But the most critical question of all to be answered at the Summit is how to pay. State and local governments can’t continue passing bonds as the sole avenue for funding infrastructure as they may face a tough road to pay them off, meaning more innovative and results-driven ways for investing in infrastructure must be found.

That’s why the California Economic Summit took on the infrastructure challenge which is vital to all regions of California and the people who live and work here.

One example of a new way to invest in our infrastructure is through private-public partnerships, and this isn’t some fantasy funding strategy; the Presidio Parkway project in San Francisco is funded through one, proving that innovative minds are the ones that will help California climb out of its projected $765 billion infrastructure deficit for the next decade.

In the next blog on our infrastructure survey results, we’ll be talking about what Californians said were their top priorities among the big pieces of the infrastructure puzzle. 


Matthew Grant Anson

All stories by: Matthew Grant Anson