In recent days, Orange County drivers have heard from some people about how everyone will benefit greatly from the transportation finance bill (Senate Bill 1) that the California Legislature approved this month. More money for road repairs and a constitutional “guarantee” to protect new transportation tax dollars. What’s not to like?
Actually, there is plenty to dislike. The bill includes the largest gas tax increase in California’s history — a $5.2 billion annual tax increase that grows over time and never ends. Californians with low to moderate incomes lose big with SB1 as it raises the gas tax by 70 percent and increases the cost of registering a car. In addition, the new law makes an obscure change in how gas taxes are calculated and guarantees that gas taxes will be higher by another seven cents per gallon in July 2019. In other words, drivers will pay closer to 20 cents a gallon more in taxes compared to today.
The big winners of SB1 are bureaucrats who want more money without real accountability and the boosters of high-speed rail whose funding remains untouched. It is appalling that 30 percent of the new taxes will not even be used for road repairs. Even worse, the bill also mandates that less than 5 percent of new funds can go to traffic relief or lane expansion.
Some are hailing the decision to pass the massive tax increase as an opportunity to finally repair California’s crumbling roads. There is no doubt that our roads need to be fixed, but the dismal shape of those roads is not the result of Sacramento not having enough of your money.
Consider this — the state’s General Fund has grown from $100 billion in 2012 to more than $125 billion this year — a record high. Yet the Legislature did not allocate more money for road repairs.
Those who voted for the tax increase promise that a new constitutional amendment (ACA 5) will protect the new taxes for transportation projects. Although this amendment provides some protection for new tax revenues, it does nothing to protect existing revenues that are already being siphoned from transportation. Nor does it prevent the state from using the new taxes for high-speed rail.
So you may ask, what is our plan? Over the past two years, Republican senators introduced a package of bills that would have funded transportation by reprioritizing the state’s current expenditures rather than raising taxes.
This effort included SBX1 9 (John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa) and SBX1 13 (Andy Vidak, R-Hanford) to hold Caltrans accountable for their spending, SBX1 11 (Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte) to reduce delays related to the California Environmental Quality Act, SCAX1 1 (Bob Huff, R-San Dimas) to ensure transportation fees and taxes are spent only on transportation, and SBX1 3 (Vidak) and SBX1 6 (Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster) to redirect high-speed rail funding to needed transportation projects. All of these bills failed to get out of the Democrat-controlled Senate. Another bill that would have…