California Drivers Denied Transparency at the Pump

California Drivers Denied Transparency at the Pump

Brandon Johnson, who racks up the miles delivering pizza, told CBS13 in Sacramento that high gasoline prices have forced him to spend “a small fortune” on “a car that doesn’t get bad mileage.” Monica Torres, a struggling single mother in Bakersfield, says “crazy” fuel prices have caused her to raise her credit card debt, according to the Bakersfield Californian. The Automobile Club of Southern California suggests that to cope with today’s gasoline prices, motorists could modify their driving style: slow down, avoid “jackrabbit” starts, and consider carpooling.

While gasoline prices peaked in late May, they are still high all over the country. But nowhere are they as painfully steep as they are here, says the American Automobile Association. The average price in California is $3.73 a gallon, far higher than the national average of $2.95. San Francisco drivers are paying about $3.85 a gallon while in Los Angeles the average price is roughly $3.77, San Diego $3.75, according to GasBuddy.

The state’s steep fuel prices are partly driven by taxes. Only Pennsylvania adds more to the price of gasoline through taxation than California, which hammers on nearly 60 cents in state and local taxes to each gallon of gas sold. No other state taxes diesel as severely.

California’s already heavy gasoline taxes jumped 12 cents a gallon on Nov. 1, 2017, diesel 20 cents a gallon. Lawmakers said the increase was needed to raise $52 billion over 10 years to fund overdue road repairs. Absent voter action — a recent Stanford poll found that voters, by a 42-22 margin, want to repeal the tax through a ballot measure this fall — the state will hike the gasoline tax by another 7.5 cents a gallon on July 1 next year to keep the revenue pouring in.

The motorists emptying their wallets to pay these taxes deserve to know where lawmakers are funneling their money. But that’s not clear.

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, proposed legislation that would have required every service station to display “a list of applicable state and federal fuel taxes.” It would “additionally require the sign to display the state sales tax, refinery reformatting costs, state underground storage fee costs, cap-and-trade program compliance costs, (and) Low-Carbon Fuel Standard program compliance costs.”

The attempt at transparency failed, however.

“The Democratic-controlled committee didn’t want the public to know why we’re paying so much, and voted to kill the bill from future consideration,” Ronald Stein, who testified in April in support of the bill, explained in Fox & Hounds Daily.

The lack of sunlight is intentional — lawmakers prefer that their political decisions affecting taxpayers remain murky. They also rather that drivers remain blind to their routine of dipping deeply into transportation funds and diverting that money to projects unrelated to the roads.

It’s quite an expensive habit, too. From 2007 to 2010, for instance, $1.3 billion in transportation funds that should have been dedicated to building or repairing our roads were instead used to “finance other programs that were apparently more politically rewarding (i.e., generated more votes) than fixing bridges and filling potholes,” according to an Orange County Register commentary written by researchers William F. Shughart and Kristian Fors.

Just last month, the California State Transportation agency directed more than $2.6 billion from fuel tax and cap-and-trade dollars to various transportation projects, including “critical projects to prepare Los Angeles and the Southern California region for the 2028 Olympic Games.”

California drivers not only are forced to subsidize projects with no connections to the roads they pay for, they are held financially responsible for other political decisions, as well. An obvious example is the mandate that cars burn a special blend of gasoline during the warmer months. We’re told this brew is more environmentally friendly than what’s used in the winter. But it costs more to produce, from five to 15 cents more per gallon, and, of course, the costs are passed along to California consumers.

Another example is the premium California drivers have to pay for policymakers’ refusal to capitalize on the state’s plentiful natural resources. They’d rather leave them in the ground than to take full advantage of the bounty. But then that fits the ruling class’ agenda to pry us out of cars and into the mass transportation modes they prefer.

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Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.