News | League of California Cities’ Michael Coleman Speaks on Complex Web of California State and Local Transportation Funding

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by By Stephen Kulieke, UC Davis

With the issue of how California funds highway and transit projects currently much in the news and on the minds of voters, one of the state’s leading experts on financing transportation gave a tutorial on the complexities of such taxes and fees at the October 26 seminar hosted by the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.

Students attending the seminar on October, 26, 2018.

Michael Coleman, fiscal policy advisor for the League of California, and noted author and local government finance expert, was the featured speaker at the seminar, sponsored through ITS-Davis’ partnership with the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center.

Entitled, “A Local Transportation Finance Breakdown,” the seminar spotlighted the basics of financing transportation and public infrastructure in California. How do we meet the public needs and how do we pay for it?

Coleman noted that there are two large funding categories:

  • User chargers: A broad category that supplies services back to the fee payer—such as tolls, fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees for cars and trucks, etc.
  • Local general funds: Such as local sales taxes that go to the county for transportation development, local streets, etc.

Coleman provided an almost dizzying explanation of the history and current transportation funding scheme in California—including the constitutional requirements and strictures that are imposed. A recent game changer was the passage of Senate Bill 1, the “Road Repair and Accountability Act.” Enacted in 2017 and now facing potential repeal on the November 6 ballot via Proposition 6, SB 1 increases gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to double local streets and road budgets and is inflation adjusted, unlike the previous gas tax.

It’s generally agreed that our roads and transportation infrastructure are in poor shape.  Whether to fund it or not through SB 1 is now being debated in political advertising, particularly in short TV spots; Coleman acknowledged that this is difficult to do adequately on such a complex issue. (He also acknowledged that one of his roles has been to advise one side of the Prop. 6 campaign.)

Michael Coleman speaking at the UC Davis seminar.

Michael Coleman is a leading expert on California local government revenues, spending and financing and creator of the California Local Government Finance Almanac, an online resource of data, analyses and articles on municipal finance and budgeting. He is the principal fiscal policy advisor both to the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers (CSMFO) and, for over twenty years, to the League of California Cities. One might say he wrote the book on local government finance, as co-author with Mike Multari, Ken Hampian and Bill Statler of the acclaimed “Guide to Local Government Finance in California.”

You can view a full recording of Michael Coleman’s talk, part of ITS-Davis’ weekly seminar series, by clicking on Watch Video at the URL:


About the Author:

Stephen Kulieke is the Senior Communications Director for the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.