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California Democrats propose series of infrastructure bills

By Robin Respaut

By Robin Respaut

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Democrats in California's state Senate announced on Tuesday a series of infrastructure funding bills that would invest billions in roads, bridges, housing and water projects.

Infrastructure investment has been at the forefront of political agendas this year, from President-elect Donald Trump's promise to unveil a massive national infrastructure spending plan to voters' support of billions of dollars of infrastructure bonds in November's election.

Both Trump and his rival, Hillary Clinton, campaigned promising infrastructure investment. Trump called for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over 10 years, but it remains unclear how much would come from the federal budget.

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Democrats in the California Senate proposed five bills on Tuesday, including one that would use $6 billion a year over the next decade to repair roads and bridges and improve transit systems across the state.

According to the proposal, the bulk of the money is to be raised through a phased-in 12 cent per gallon gas tax increase, along with increases to the diesel excise tax and vehicle registration fees.

California's freeway system faces a $59 billion maintenance shortfall over the next decade and local governments face another $78 billion shortfall for local highways and bridges. The need for infrastructure funding is echoed across the country.

"Our transportation infrastructure is in dire condition. The longer we wait to fix it, the more it will cost us,” State Senator Jim Beall of San Jose and sponsor of the transportation bill, said in a statement.

Two housing bills raise money for affordable housing, one of them through a $75 fee on real estate transaction documents.

California is home to 21 of the 30 most expensive rental housing markets in the country, and many parts of the state face serious housing shortages. Another bill proposes to issue a $3 billion general obligation bond aimed at addressing the housing stock shortage.

Senator Toni Atkins of San Diego, sponsor of one of the housing bills, said infrastructure was "at the top of the list" of challenges facing California, and Tuesday's package of bills would "go a long way toward improving quality of life for Californians and grow our state’s economy."

Another bill would fund state and local parks and water infrastructure through a $3 billion general obligation bond. Despite recent rains, California is in the fifth year of drought. In 2014, state voters passed a $7.5 billion bond to fund water infrastructure projects throughout California.

Senate leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles, sponsor of Tuesday's bill, noted that there is still "a high unmet demand for new water and natural resource investment."

(Reporting by Robin Respaut; Editing by Daniel Bases and Phil Berlowitz)