California

California Voters Could Repeal a $54 Billion Gas Tax Increase

Californians pay some of the highest gas taxes for some of the worst-maintained roads in the country.

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When Californians go to the polls today, they'll be deciding if they should keep paying some of the highest gas taxes in the country for some of its most expensive, poorly maintained roads. On the statewide ballot this cycle is Prop. 6, which would repeal a 10-year, $54 billion package of vehicle fee and gas tax increases passed by the state legislature back in 2017. The measure would also require future gas tax increases to be approved by voters.

Since qualifying for the ballot this summer, Prop. 6 has proven both controversial and expensive.

Some $50 million has been raised for the Prop 6. campaign, the vast majority of that (some $46 million) going to the pro-gas tax side. The lion's share of those funds come from construction companies, building trade unions, engineering firms, and their associated PACs.

This money has helped boost the message that without the added gas tax revenue, Californians will literally die.

"If we see this repealed, we will pay—make no mistake," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. "We'll pay in lives, we'll pay in dollars, we'll pay in broken axles, we'll pay in popped tires, we'll pay during earthquakes."

"Crumbling bridges and roads put lives at risk every day," said Kristina Swallow, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers in an anti-Prop. 6 ad.

"Some of this is a bit of a scare mechanism. There are certainly other revenue sources they could find," says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation policy expert with the Reason Foundation (the non-profit that publishes this website).

California does have a huge number of road maintenance projects it needs to complete, says Feigenbaum. According to the Reason Foundation's 2018 Highway Report, California ranks 46th in the quality of its urban interstate highways, and 46th in the quality of its rural arterial roads.

The problem is not a lack of money.

Reason's Highway Report also found that the state spent the fourth most per mile on road maintenance and tenth most per mile on capital and bridge expenditures. Its gas taxes were the seventh highest in the nation before 2017's tax hike. With the tax hike they are now the second highest in the nation, behind only Pennsylvania. Californians pay an average of 55 cents a gallon in taxes at the pump.

This mix of high per mile spending, high gas taxes, and poorly maintained roads is a sign of just how inefficient California's transportation bureaucracy has become, says Feigenbaum.

Heavy influence from the state's engineering union has blocked cheaper means of delivering infrastructure, Feigenbaum maintains. This includes limiting the use of design-build—a project delivery method whereby one contractor is responsible for designing and building the project—and public private partnerships, where private capital and expertise is tapped for public projects. (Both methods cut down on the need for expensive, state-employed civil engineers.)

It's also a matter of priorities, says Feigenbaum, noting the huge amount of gas tax money the state spends on mass transit projects.

In April, the state announced some $2.6 billion in transit grant awards funded by the 2017 gas tax increase for everything from light rail in Sacramento to electric buses in Los Angeles. This same tax funds another $100 million in "active transportation" projects like bike lanes and recreational trails.

Democratic dominance at the state level ensures that no one is held accountable for overbudget, behind-schedule delivery of projects. That, Feigenbaum adds, reduces the incentive to spend gas tax dollars efficiently.

"The current actors are so insulated from [accountability] because of one-party rule," he tells Reason. "The whole system badly needs reform but politically it's almost impossible."

The result is that voters are stuck with two bad options. Delivering projects without a gas tax increase would require politically unpalatable reforms. Meanwhile, scaling back gas taxes without necessary reform could jeopardize some worthwhile projects.

Tellingly, most business groups have declined to support the gas tax repeal. The California Chamber of Commerce is actively opposed to it. Most of the funding for the pro-repeal side is coming from Republican campaign committees, hoping to drive conservative turn out with an anti-tax message.

Polling is mixed on the measure. A Public Policy Institute of California survey from October has support for Prop. 6 at 41 percent, with 48 percent being opposed. An Eyewitness News/Survey USA poll released today shows the exact opposite, with 48 percent in favor of gas tax repeal, and 41 percent opposed.

Whatever the outcome of the election, California will still be left with a transportation funding system that routinely wastes taxpayer dollars.

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  1. If the gas tax funds actually had to go to the roads, it’d be one thing. But taxing drivers to pay for forms of transportation they are actively not using is just extra-perverse.

    1. The barely-tolerable rationale is that subsidizing buses, trains, bicycles, etc, helps get some drivers off the road to make life better for the remaining drivers.

      Fuck that noise. If I wanted to subsidize other means of transport, I would. I don’t. It’s my fucking money, keep your grubby hands off it.

    2. “If the gas tax funds actually had to go to the roads, it’d be one thing. But taxing drivers to pay for forms of transportation they are actively not using is just extra-perverse.”

      Particularly when it’s used to block off traffic lanes for dedicated bus or bike lanes; I get to pay an additional amount to make my drive more aggravating.

    3. This is the point. Originally, gas taxes were for supposed to be “set aside” for “road construction”*. If a state road went thru an urban area where sidewalks were needed the local government was expected to pay for such improvements.

      At first when local governments wanted landscaping (trees, flowers etc in the medians and borders) they were told those things had to come out of local budgets as well.

      Then the hippies wanted bike lanes and the state said if you want them you have to pay for them. So the local governments tried to collect registration taxes on bicycles which naturally met with resistance.

      The end result, state governments decided all of these things needed to be paid for out of gas taxes so they started paying for them. Then they lobbied the FHWA to pay for them out of federal gat taxes.

      Thus, today only about three quarters of gas tax money, state and federal goes to building actual traffic lanes and appurtenances. The rest goes to mass transit, bike trails and pedestrian sidewalks.

      None of the foregoing is intended as advocacy for any tax collecting regime. It is solely to remind everyone that if you want something you have to pay for it.

      How the payment is collected is another thing entirely.

      *ie Grading, paving and drainage work required to provide a road for motor vehicles,

    4. But taxing drivers to pay for forms of transportation they are actively not using is just extra-perverse.

      Yep – it’s about back-funding Jerry’s choo-choo.

      And Gavin is now openly admitting that the choo-choo is not ever going to be done. Since his gubernatorial opponent is saying “fuck the choo-choo,” Gavin can run on “well, we’re going to continue building the choo-choo, but instead of going from LA to SF it’s going to go from Fresno to, say, Antioch. At which point we’ll let it run for a few years to see if it’s ‘economically viable.'”

      Hint: it won’t be.

  2. But how are they going to pay for it?

    That’s how tax cuts work now according to Reason if I recall correctly.

    1. That is the current theory.

  3. Don’t let Suderman see an argument that a deficit is a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

  4. We’ll work up a No on 6 on ’em!

    1. High speed rail, coming soon to Rock Ridge

      1. And the governor wants to fund it by robbing everyone who uses the roads. I mean, what’ll that asshole think of next?

  5. >>>repeal a 10-year, $54 billion package … passed by the state legislature back in 2017

    fickle motherfuckers out there

  6. I will believe it when I see it.

    That state voted to ban straws. Retarded is in the water.

  7. Of course, if CA can’t get $54B this way, they’ll get $108B some other way.

  8. and public-private partnerships

    This is exactly why you all need to go join your local Antifa chapter immediately.

    1. In Portland, Antifa is a public-private partnership.

      1. Their membership, funding, and Amazon-purchased signature clothing may be drawn from the bourgeoisie, but every young member of the resistance has the heart of a prole.

        1. The fact that Communism is too expensive for poor people is one of the many ways Capitalism has failed us.

          1. “Damn it, Vladimir, I told you we shouldn’t have subcontracted out for that rope.”

  9. Legal taxpayers in the state know that just like past gas taxes, brown, gavin and the bribed trolls
    will steal this money like before. They will fund the fat pensions of degenerate public employees,
    fund illegal amnesty, welfare, raises, bribes, the homeless otherwise know as problems they created and
    ignored. brown is a thief. It lacks attention because he wrote it to deceive voters showing his
    lack of character and honesty, faults that will consume a failed corrupt legacy.

    California Has Become a Disgraceful State
    Townhall-Mar 9, 2018

    LA County firefighters earn massive overtime pay, busting budgets
    Los Angeles Times-Oct 21, 2018

    California drivers paying for underfunded CHP pensions
    The Mercury News-Dec 22, 2016

    California has billions in extra money. Why don’t taxpayers get a refund?
    Sacramento Bee-Jun 13, 2018

    YES ON 6
    ————

  10. Legal taxpayers in the state know that just like past gas taxes, brown, gavin and the bribed trolls
    will steal this money like before. They will fund the fat pensions of degenerate public employees,
    fund illegal amnesty, welfare, raises, bribes, the homeless otherwise know as problems they created and
    ignored. brown is a thief. It lacks attention because he wrote it to deceive voters showing his
    lack of character and honesty, faults that will consume a failed corrupt legacy.

    California Has Become a Disgraceful State
    Townhall-Mar 9, 2018

    LA County firefighters earn massive overtime pay, busting budgets
    Los Angeles Times-Oct 21, 2018

    California drivers paying for underfunded CHP pensions
    The Mercury News-Dec 22, 2016

    California has billions in extra money. Why don’t taxpayers get a refund?
    Sacramento Bee-Jun 13, 2018

    YES ON 6
    ————

  11. There would be some chance I could be convinced we need these gas taxes to maintain infrastructure, if it weren’t for the existence of the high-speed rail boondoggle.

    As long as the high-speed rail project is a thing I can’t see how it is a good idea to give the state government any more money for anything.

  12. My Yes on 6 vote has been in the bag for weeks.

    1. Piss on the roads. Californians need their vehicles seized and crushed . Think of the environment. Think of Global Warming. They should be issued solar powered roller skates and organic pogo sticks for their transportation needs. Do it for the children.

      1. What?! We Californians all drive electric cars. Just one of the many ways we are morally superior to the rest of you.

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