CA lawmakers team up to pitch 17-cent gas tax hike

Gas+PricesThe Democratic member who has led the push in the Assembly for a gas tax hike to pay for transportation improvements is teaming with the Democratic senator who has played the same role in his chamber. And the pair want to be far bolder that Gov. Jerry Brown was in his 2015 proposal.

Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, and Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, propose a 17 cent per gallon tax increase to fund a $7.4 billion transportation program, with likely additional annual hikes after adoption because the rate is indexed to inflation. They also want to increase the tax on diesel fuels by 30 cents a gallon, with the same indexing provision, and to make it easier to get approvals for transportation infrastructure improvements.

Brown’s proposal — which went nowhere in a special session — was built on a 6 cent per gallon tax increase and other provisions that would have funded a $3.6 billion transportation plan.

Bitterness over 2010 gas tax swap hangs over debate

The huge problem facing any proposal to raise taxes of this sort is the need for two-thirds approval, which means Republican votes in both the Assembly and Senate are necessary. And Democrats lobbying for GOP support don’t just have to overcome traditional Republican opposition to higher taxes. There continues to be deep bitterness over the gas tax swap that GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers pulled off in 2010 to plug a $1.8 billion hole in the 2010-11 budget. Republicans aware of this history would struggle to believe that the tax hikes that Frazier and Beall seek for road repairs might not at some future date be used to pay for state salaries, pensions or other needs unrelated to potholes and aging bridges.

The background: Irate over previous diversions of gasoline sales taxes from road repairs to other uses, California voters twice this century passed ballot measures — Proposition 42 in 2002 and Proposition 1A in 2006 — that banned such use of gas sales tax revenue.

But gasoline excise taxes can be spent on general fund obligations. So in 2010, gas excise taxes were sharply raised and gas sales taxes sharply reduced. Because the move was revenue-neutral, Schwarzenegger and Democrats successfully argued that the maneuver only needed to pass on a simple majority vote — not the two-thirds vote needed for tax hikes.

As a result, each year, the state Board of Equalization announces whether it is raising or cutting state excise taxes on gasoline to honor the deal’s requirement that the 2010 gas tax swap be roughly revenue-neutral.

Recent coverage of the Frazier-Beall initiative has not detailed whether the 17 cent per gallon tax hike would be entirely in the gas sales tax or entirely in the gas excise tax or a combination of increases in each.  If it were in the gas sales tax, that would nominally mean the money could only be spent on road repairs and infrastructure improvement because of Propositions 42 and 1A. But another gas tax swap could enable the money to be diverted to the general fund by a simple majority of the Legislature in the future, at least if the governor was amenable.

Republican lawmakers are also likely to be wary of another part of the Democratic lawmakers’ proposal: a $165 yearly fee for owners of zero-emission vehicles to help pay for road improvements. While that’s higher than what most states with such fees charge, it’s only half of what the average U.S. car owner pays in gas taxes a year, according to data from 2013. 

The argument that zero-emission vehicles should pay more toward road maintenance is dismissed by greens who cite the environmental benefits of the vehicles. But as such vehicles become more common — and as states push gas taxes higher — owners of regular vehicles and free-market advocates are likely to cry foul.


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  1. Terry
    Terry 25 August, 2016, 13:56

    More gas tax??? Where is tax money collected now spent? Also do not forget CA added sales tax to gas too. That is unconstitutional but who cares it is just a piece of paper.
    Is that tax being used so Cal Trans workers can retire at 50-55? Why is it govt employees at all levels can retire long before the 65 people in the private sector with a huge retirement. It is way past time to change retirement for govt employees. That would save enough to fix our roads.

    Reply this comment
  2. Colonel Bill Kilgore
    Colonel Bill Kilgore 27 August, 2016, 11:55

    Tax’em good and hard then tax’em again.

    Tax the shiite outta ’em.

    Tax’em to the stoneage, son!

    I love the smell of tax increases in the morning!

    Reply this comment
  3. bob
    bob 27 August, 2016, 11:56

    No matter how high taxes are they will never be high enough for the criminal politicians that rule us.

    Reply this comment
    • Mr. Pickle
      Mr. Pickle 30 August, 2016, 16:33

      I concur with Bob. The reality is the last 30 years of Dem control, has run this state into the toilet financially. It does NOT take in enough funding to pay the existing DEBT the Dems have bestowed upon the taxpayers. I am amazed that Ca voters continue to send these people back to office year after year. And how MUCH do we pay to cross the GG Bridge on a Sunday?????

      Reply this comment
  4. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 27 August, 2016, 14:45

    How about a Stupidity Tax to be paid by these lawmakers and the California Air Resources Board

    Reply this comment
    • Mr. Pickle
      Mr. Pickle 30 August, 2016, 16:35

      Yup. But you got it wrong. Tax increase need a vote of the people. That is why this should be a Stupidity Fee, because they can sneek these in by manipulating the system.

      Reply this comment
  5. Ron
    Ron 29 August, 2016, 09:37

    In addition to the huge taxes to generate revenues to fund the transportation infrastructure, the emissions crusaders inclusive of Governor Brown and Tom Steyer are so focused on the crusade to shut down the California oil industry that they have demonstrated their lack of understanding of basic Economics 101. With California being an energy island with the Sierra Mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other side, there are no pipelines “into” the state from the rest of the country. By shutting down the oil industry, they would be depriving the airports of the 10,000,000 gallons of jet fuel required every day to keep them running smoothly, resulting in an international economic crisis. In addition, the 97% of our 32 million vehicles that run on conventional transportation fuels would be deprived of the 40,000,000 gallons of fuel being consumed every day, also resulting in a world economic crisis. All the above manufactured fuels are now manufactured in-state by the few manufacturers that are left in California. The emissions crusade extension for another decade to 2030 is NOT a hit on big oil, it’s a hit on the California and World economies.

    Reply this comment
  6. Mr. Pickle
    Mr. Pickle 30 August, 2016, 16:40

    And WHEN was the last time this state allowed a NEW refinery to be built? Again, Dem control of the Legislature. The won’t allow it, and none of us scream about it………
    Throw the bums out. 100% of Ca problems are caused by Dems, as they have had total control of the legislature and our DEBT problem lies on their shoulders. Similar to the issues we face in DC, as in the costly UN-affordable health care ripoff the Dems put into place. Grrrrrrrr……………

    Reply this comment
  7. Mr. Pickle
    Mr. Pickle 30 August, 2016, 16:54

    Everybody needs to review SB-1X, the culprit behind this.
    Beale & Frazier are both Dems, and in this case, following the ORDERS of King Brown and his court of minions. Neither has business experience, especially at this level, but they are doing the bidding of their boss. Nothing else. they feel that carbon and fuels are evil, and thus now a sin tax like cigarette taxes…… they hate the products, but just drool over the money. Hypocrites. As cited in Prop. 42 and Prop. 1A, the citizens told them in the Capitol to pound sand, and here they are again hurting the poor, with more costs they can not afford. Remember when turncoat Arnold SLASHED the DMV Fee to get elected, and now DMV is higher than every before………. Well, guess they figured out a way to build the Legacy Brown Train to nowhere and needed the money. Vote NO on this piece of crap, and scream bloody murder to the 2 Authors of this garbage…… Oh, by the way, if you hunt, fish, hike, or OHV, they are trying to take that money also. If you leave pavement, and go on dirt to recreate like listed above, the portion of OHV Fuel Tax is being taken too, so good luck getting to the trailheads to fish, or other recreation. I guess the saying that being a Dem is a Mental Disease may be correct after all………

    Reply this comment
  8. Bouves
    Bouves 7 April, 2017, 17:09

    We need to get a ballot initiative rescind the new gas tax that our legislators passed yesterday. Do notl let the people in Sacramento deceive us again. Tell Jerry to use the money for that useless train on our roads. All we get is new taxes. Jerry and the legislators are running us out of money.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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