Californians who didn’t fill up on Tuesday are probably kicking themselves today. Tax hikes on gasoline and diesel fuel went into effect, sending prices significantly higher. The levy on a gallon of gasoline spiked 12 cents, from 18 cents to 30, while diesel jumped from 16 cents a gallon to 36.
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal calls the tax hikes “part of state government’s ongoing war against working people and middle-class taxpayers.”
“The Sacramento politicians have seized on every opportunity to divert gas tax revenues from their intended purpose, fixing roads,” Coupal told us Tuesday. “As the roads predictably deteriorate, they plead poverty and justify digging deeper into taxpayers’ pockets.”
Get used to it. We’ll be paying these extra taxes for 10 years to rack up $52 billion to repair the state’s cracking and bending infrastructure. To reach that figure, we will also, starting next year, have to pay higher registration fees. The increases start at $25 for cars worth up to $4,999, and range up to $175 for autos worth more than $60,000.
Tax-weary Californians already pay some of the highest fuel taxes in the nation. According to the American Petroleum Institute, California had the second-heaviest gasoline tax millstone in the country before the new rates kicked in. Now the average family will be paying at least an additional $1,000 a year in taxes.
The tax hikes are so noxious that 1) an initiative to repeal them will be found on the ballot next November, and 2) a recall effort was launched in Orange County against Democratic Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton who voted in favor of Senate Bill 1, the legislation that established the tax hikes.
There’s no argument that the state doesn’t need to fix its freeways, streets, boulevards and avenues. Last year the Reason Foundation ranked California roads 42nd in the nation in its Annual Highway Report. Caltrans has reported that 15 percent of the 50,000 miles of state highways is in “distressed” condition while another 25 percent should be receiving “corrective maintenance.” A state Senate committee found in 2015 that 68 percent of California roads are in “poor” or “mediocre” condition.
At least our bridges are sturdy, though. Reason Foundation Vice President of Research Adrian Moore wrote in the Orange County Register last year that California had “the lowest percentage of deficient bridges of any state in the nation.” Imagine what the tax hikes would have been had the bridges been as poor as the roads.
Despite the dire need, not every dollar of taxes raised will be used to repair roads. According to Inside Sources, “$7 billion is set aside for mass transit projects,” while $400 million will be spent on “a commuter rail line between the Bay Area and Central Valley.” Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen of Tehama issued a statement regarding SB 1 in April in which he said that “legislative Democrats have already designated some of these taxes for park restroom maintenance and land purchase for animal travel.” GOP Assemblyman Vince Fong of Kern County says that Sacramento’s habit of “diverting billions of dollars from transportation funds to the state’s general fund, where the dollars are used for non-transportation purposes” is one of the reasons California has arrived at a ”transportation crisis.”
California GOP lawmakers such as Nielsen believe that the state could repair its roads without raising taxes. Fong, who is vice chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee and introduced the legislation, Assembly Bill 396, says it “fixes our roads with existing money that motorists are already paying – no new taxes or fees. It is based on the core and simple principle that all transportation funds should go to transportation.”
Efficiency, or lack thereof, is another factor overlooked in passing SB 1. Baruch Feigenbaum, Reason’s assistant director of transportation policy, tells us that California roads “continue to be in poor condition despite the state spending far more per capita to maintain them than most other states.” He says that “if California is serious about improving its roadway system,” officials should conduct a spending analysis “to determine why it costs the department so much to maintain its roadway system.”
“Until the department approves its efficiency, no gas tax increase will ever be enough,” he says. “California taxpayers are living with some of the highest roadway taxes and worst quality roadways in the country. They need an explanation for why nobody is willing to fix the state’s broken system.”
That’s only one of many explanations that squeezed taxpayers deserve from Sacramento.