Gas taxes have been siphoned away from road repairs for years

By Senator Mike Morrell
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Published in: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, San Bernardino Sun (4/26/17)

For years, Sacramento Democrats have been laser-focused on raising taxes. Echoing Ronald Reagan’s famous observation about government’s view of the economy, their mission statement should read: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

With new permanent gas and car taxes enacted, legislative Democrats have gotten their wish. Drivers will be paying for the largest gas tax increase in state history to the tune of $52 billion over the next decade – their hard-earned money going not only to roads and highways, but also to shore up a government that perpetually and disingenuously claims it is short on cash.

Many have asked an obvious question: if California already charges among the nation’s highest gas taxes and the roads are still deteriorating, where has all the money gone? The answer lies in a scheme that has played out for almost two decades.

In 2002, voters passed Proposition 42 confining the sales tax on gasoline to transportation purposes only. Shortly after, legislators found a way to siphon off the money to the state budget. Voters responded in 2006 with Proposition 1A, limiting the legislature’s ability to suspend Proposition 42. Then the Democrat-controlled legislature used accounting gimmicks to pay off bonds instead of build up our highways. Citizens responded again in 2010 with Proposition 22, prohibiting gasoline excise tax funds from being used to pay for debt. Now the legislature diverts $1 billion a year from trucking weight fees to the state budget’s general fund.

We all agree that we need well-maintained roads. They are critical to the health of our economy, to keep goods and services moving. It is one of the core responsibilities of government to enable the flow of commerce.

Yet year after year, money for our roads has been hijacked against the clear will of voters. At the same time, the state general fund has increased spending by $36 billion, not one dollar of which has gone to roads and highways. Instead, the Democrat-controlled government has used the money to prop up spending on expanded social programs for drug felons and renovated state office buildings in Sacramento. The governor also continues to advocate spending $67 billion on an ill-conceived high-speed rail network.

In total, Californians will pay $5.2 billion per year in new taxes on every aspect of driving from gas and diesel to an enhanced vehicle license fee based on the value of your car.

While the increases will be felt across the board, the added tax on diesel will perhaps cause the greatest financial hardship. Consider that 78 percent of California communities rely solely on trucking to have their goods delivered. If fuel costs rise, trucking companies will have no choice but to increase the cost of moving freight. If shipping costs increase, so will the price of the products shipped. Already operating on thin margins, wholesalers and storeowners will have no choice but to pass on the additional costs.

In the end, those most hurt by tax increases on driving will be the working poor, those on fixed incomes, and the middle class. It will especially hit those who have few options but to drive long distances every day just to get to work or take their kids to school. This comes on top of the estimated $2,500 in annual costs already pushed onto families by the state’s environmental laws.

Democrat leaders have promised that the annual $5.2 billion in taxes will be used to pay for roads and highways. However, it is another instance in which the big print giveth, while the little print taketh away.

Despite claims otherwise, $80 million will be spent on parks. Another $100 million will be used to fund the Active Transportation Program, likely for bike paths and walkways – not roads. To put these figures in perspective, only $110 million will be used on new infrastructure. These are just some of the itemized expenditures.

Polls have shown that Californians consistently dislike the idea of higher gas taxes. A UC Berkley study found the opposition to be almost 63 percent.

Californians know they pay enough for the services and programs they expect. What they want is the state to better prioritize its spending, to get its finances in order just like each of us has to do every time we balance our checkbooks.

Instead, under one-party rule in California, taxpayers are fleeced again, finding themselves having to pay more for government that delivers less.