The wizards in the Capitol think they have the problem with California’s crumbling roads all figured out. They’re going to charge a gas tax and increase car registration fees, then use that to fix roads.
They act as if the idea is a new invention.
The fact is, there’s already a gas tax and car registration fees. If the state would use those existing taxes for roads, the problem would be solved.
But that’s going to be tough. Once the state creates a slush fund, legislators can’t be weaned off easily. Revenue from gas taxes and vehicle fees is used elsewhere, so rather than reprioritize, they want to raise taxes.
And they can do it without voters’ consent.
That’s California for you, the land of the Democratic supermajority. Republicans in Sacramento will be united against this scheme, but Democrats don’t need Republican votes.
The best hope for taxpayers is that just a couple of moderate Democrats fear voter backlash enough to reject the tax increase and choose the responsible method of asking state government to prioritize its spending.
There’s no denying that roads are crumbling. But, ahem, so are spillways and a lot of other infrastructure.
The state just needs to figure out what to fix first.
The money is there. Deciphering the circuitous way in which transportation projects are funded, however, should be avoided by anyone who suffers from motion sickness.
Curtis Grima, chief of staff for Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said the Assembly’s Republican caucus has researched the matter.
Grima said exactly zero percent of vehicle registration fees go to roads. Instead, it’s used for the Department of Motor Vehicles, California Highway Patrol and the Air Resources Board.
As for gas taxes, Grima wrote: “We collect about $4 billion in gas tax for roads. About $1 billion is diverted off the top as part of the ‘gas swap’ scheme. The result is that the gas tax loses $1 billion, and the general fund gains $1 billion. My understanding of the new proposal is that it does not restore any of these funds.”
The “gas swap scheme” is typical Sacramento politics. The gas tax is protected but weight fees are not, so the Legislature takes weight fees for the general fund.
Gallagher makes a very good point when he says: “Over the last six years, state spending has increased by $36 billion, yet not a dime of this new revenue was spent to fix our roads. Over this same time period, billions of dollars specifically earmarked for transportation has been raided.”
The new taxes and fees would raise about $5 billion a year.
Those who argue the state needs more taxes are ignoring what the state does with the old taxes.
Caltrans has participated in a social media blitz for the past month, joining a coalition of interested parties, like unions and contractors that would benefit from the work. The public relations campaign shows pictures of damaged roads, followed by messages like this one on Twitter: “41% of CA’s pavement requires rehab, replacement, or maintenance. New investment would allow us to #FixCARoads.”
Caltrans knows better than anyone, though, that the state doesn’t need “new funding.” It just needs legislators to stop raiding the old funding for different needs.