Earlier this week, Gov. Jerry Brown and Democrat lawmakers in Sacramento unveiled a “landmark” solution for funding critical transportation infrastructure projects. However, when their solution to every budget woe is to increase taxes and fees, it’s easier to see this proposal as banal more than groundbreaking.
The Democrats’ proposal includes 1) a 12-cent increase in the gasoline excise tax, 2) a 20-cent increase in the diesel excise tax, 3) a four percent diesel sales tax increase, 4) a “transportation improvement fee” increase ranging from $25 to $175 per year per vehicle, and 5) a $100/year zero emission vehicle fee starting in 2020. All in all, these tax and fee increases are projected to increase the state’s annual revenue by approximately $5 billion.
California’s families already spend more money on transportation than any expense other than housing. Transportation costs families more than food and more than twice what they spend on healthcare. The Democrats’ proposal is a regressive tax increase that will severely hurt California’s families.
Let’s consider local impacts. According to GasBuddy, the average price per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Kern County on March 30, 2017, was $2.99 (36-cents of which is state taxes). Under the Democrats’ proposal, that price would increase to $3.11, including nearly 50-cents’ of state taxes. If, like many of our neighbors, you drive a Ford F-150, Toyota Camry, or other vehicle worth $25,000 to $34,999, your Highway User Fee would increase by $100 annually. This fee increase is more or less depending on the value of your car.
The California Center for Jobs and the Economy reports that Kern County has an 9.9% unemployment rate, average wages of $40,600, and 21.9% of our neighbors living below the poverty level. And while counties like Kern will be most negatively affected by the Democrats’ proposed tax and fee increases, we are unlikely to see any of these new revenues benefit us. Of the $1.5 billion intended for local road repairs and the $200 million in matching funds for self-help communities, the state’s funding mechanisms make it is unlikely that Kern County, or any city or county that is not self-help, will see any portion of these new funds. Rather, we’re more likely to see our tax increases fund highway improvements and public transit in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
While we’re being told the Democrats’ proposal is the only solution to our transportation woes, Republicans in the legislature have offered their own proposal that provides $5.6 billion annually without raising taxes. Assemblyman Vince Fong has authored AB 496, the Traffic Relief and Road Improvement Act guided by three key principles: 1) road funding should go to roads, 2) we must protect California’s working families from tax or fee increases, and 3) we need to streamline government to make transportation projects more efficient.
For the time being, both proposals are still proposals. To pass their assault on working class Californians, all 27 Democratic Senators and all but one of the 55 Democratic Assembly Members must vote for the Democrats’ proposal to reach the two-thirds supermajorities needed to pass taxes in the Legislature. Every vote counts.
Now is the time to make our voices heard. The Governor and Democrat leaders in both the Senate and Assembly have launched their pitch to lawmakers, and a coalition has been traveling the state to raise support for a middle-class tax increase. That’s why we need to demand that our elected officials vote with their district and our communities in mind.
A vote on the Democrats’ proposal is likely next Thursday, April 6. Senators Jean Fuller and Andy Vidak, and Assemblyman Vince Fong have voiced their opposition. This leaves Assemblyman Rudy Salas as our only local representative who has not indicated his position on the Democrats’ proposal. We need to make sure Salas, Gov. Brown and Democrat leaders hear from the Californians these tax and fee increases will devastate: we cannot afford another middle-class tax increase.
California’s roads and highways are in desperate need of maintenance and expansion, but regressive tax hikes that hurt California families are not the way to fund them. We deserve better.
(Justin Salters is a lifelong resident of Kern County.)