Terry McLaughlin: Gas tax doesn’t hold water
“In the past seven days, the average price for a gallon of gas in California has jumped $0.27 per gallon to $4.16, according to the latest AAA Gas Prices data”, reported Mike Teselle on KCRA3 on Oct. 4.
On the same date, the national average for a gallon of gasoline was $2.66. Industry experts cite refinery problems and the attack on a Saudi Arabian oil facility in September as the cause of the increase. A September news release on AAA of California’s website states that “These factors are continuing the spike that began after the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure earlier this month.”
But if you look at what is happening around the country, you will see that those explanations simply don’t hold water. According to data from AAA, 37 states saw either no changes in price or a reduction in gas prices at the pumps over the exact same time frame. Even Hawaii saw a drop in price, and five additional states experienced an increase of a penny or less per gallon. Nevada was the only other state to see a double digit increase in that time frame.
The current jump in gas prices in California may be partially attributed to the passage of Senate Bill 1, which was sold to the voters as the “Road Repair and Accountability Act.” When voters approved this tax, they were promised that it would be used to fund repairs for California’s aging roads, highways and bridges. The website http://www.rebuildingca.ca.gov details SB 1 as a legislative package that “invests $54 billion over the next decade to fix roads, freeways and bridges in communities across California and puts more dollars toward transit and safety. These funds will be split equally between state and local investments. . . . California’s state-mandated transportation infrastructure will receive roughly half of SB 1 revenue: $26 Billion. The other half will go to local roads, transit agencies and an expansion of the state’s growing network of pedestrian and cycle routes. Each year this new funding will be used to tackle deferred maintenance needs both on the state highway system and local road system, including: Maintenance and Rehabilitation of the State Highway System: $1.8 billion; maintaining and repairing the state’s bridges and culverts: $400 million; repairs to local streets and roads: $1.5 billion; matching funds for local agencies: $200 million; bike and pedestrian projects: $100 million; freeway service patrol: $25 million; new funding to transit agencies: over $750 million; trade corridor enhancement program: $300 million; solutions for congested corridors program: $250 million; local planning grants: $25 million; transportation-related research at state universities: $7 million; and workforce training programs: $5 million.”
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Contrary to the stated purpose of these funds and the explicit allocations as listed above, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-19-19 on Sept. 7, which redirected $5 billion of SB 1 gas tax revenues to fund railway systems and other projects in an “effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change while building a sustainable, inclusive economy.”
Of great concern is that this executive order eliminates two important highway expansion projects on vital freight corridors in Tulare and Madera County, identified by the California Department of Transportation as high-priority “bottleneck” areas.
In response, Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) stated “Instead of building capacity on our highways to move people and freight, Gov. Newsom is funding his pet rail projects throughout the state. This theft of funds meant to improve our roadways is a glimpse into the future of transportation in our state as Newsom continues to execute his September 2019 Climate Change Executive Order. The Central Valley is just the beginning. Other road projects will likely be next . . . . Gov. Newsom’s promise not to forget about the Central Valley is full of hot air.”
Gov. Newsom’s office issued a press statement, just ahead of Climate Week that states that “The California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) is directed to invest its annual portfolio of $5 billion toward construction, operations and maintenance to help reverse the trend of increased fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transportation sector. CalSTA . . . is also directed to align transportation spending, programming and mitigation with the state’s climate goals to achieve the objectives of the state’s Climate Change Scoping Plan . . . Specifically, the Gov. is ordering a focus for transportation investments near housing and on managing congestion through innovative strategies that encourage alternatives to driving.”
Gov. Newsom has gone so far as to threaten to take money from SB 1 gas tax funds, and redirect those funds if cities and counties don’t meet his housing goals. His office’s press statement continues: “Caltrans will use available transportation dollars to prioritize projects that manage congestion and reduce vehicle miles traveled in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions . . . Moving away from internal combustion engines is critical to reduce carbon emissions and address major pollution issues across the state.”
“This is worse than a shell game or bait-and-switch”, Assemblyman Peterson wrote on his Facebook page. “It is taxpayer theft by executive order. Promise voters that road taxes will fix our highways and streets, then siphon off $5 billion for his Climate Change plan — a new scheme to get us to give up our cars.”
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at email@example.com.
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