It’s easy to spend money when it’s not your own. That’s the case with the proposed massive tax hikes on California drivers announced Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The $5.2 billion in taxes imposed annually are aimed squarely at the middle class — citizens who see their cars not as a luxury but as a necessity to get to work, take the kids to school and run their errands at the end of a long day. The governor and his tax-and-spend allies — including interests that get rich off the taxpayer dime — are pushing a gas tax hike of 12 cents per gallon on top of our already high gas tax plus higher vehicle registration fees that average out to about $50 per vehicle. This would leave California with the highest gas and car taxes in the nation by far.
Not surprisingly, taxpayers are not buying what the governor is selling. A Public Policy Institute of California poll shows that a majority of Californians, including 42 percent of Democrats, oppose the taxes. A recent California Chamber of Commerce poll showed that 80 percent of voters want to see spending reforms first, before new taxes.
There is a good reason for the lack of trust between the people and their government when it comes to transportation spending. General fund spending has increased by $36 billion over the last six years, and not one dime has been spent on transportation infrastructure. If legislators don’t view transportation as a critical priority, why should California drivers support even higher taxes?
No one doubts that California’s roads and highways are in terrible shape. But the blame for this rests squarely on our political class, not hard-working taxpayers who already live in a state that has the highest income tax rate in America as well as the highest state sales tax.
The question has always been one of priorities. How is it that the state budget is near record highs and yet no money can be found for transportation? Over the years, billions of dollars of truck weight fees have been diverted from road repair to pay off bond debt which, for all other state bonds, are repaid out of the general fund, not out of revenue that is supposed to be dedicated to transportation.
And no discussion of transportation spending would be complete without addressing the nation’s biggest boondoggle: high-speed rail. Hundreds of millions of dollars of cap-and-trade money every year are going to prop up this floundering project that could be better spent on transportation systems people actually use. And a further $3 billion in sales taxes on the purchase of new and used vehicles annually could be used to fund road repair.
While some of these solutions are easier to implement than others, the point remains that the Legislature could easily designate tens of billions of dollars of existing revenues to transportation without shortchanging other programs.
Perhaps the biggest insult to taxpayers is that the governor and the ruling party in Sacramento have no intention of letting the voters have a say on this tax. If they can get two-thirds of each house to approve this permanent tax increase, it’s a done deal. That explains why the governor is trying to rush a vote on this damaging proposal this coming week.
If citizens are as disgusted with this unnecessary and damaging tax proposal as those of us who see what’s really going on in Sacramento, they need to let their elected representatives in the state Assembly and Senate know now. Tell them that willful neglect of transportation infrastructure is never an excuse to increase regressive taxes on millions of beleaguered taxpayers and drivers.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. This commentary originally appeared in the Orange County Register on April 2.