A candidate for California governor is putting his political weight behind a signature-gathering effort to repeal a state gasoline-tax increase that took effect last month.
John Cox, a Republican businessman from San Diego, visited Fresno on Wednesday as honorary chairman of Stop the Gas Tax, the statewide petition drive that needs to gather nearly 600,000 signatures from registered voters to qualify a repeal measure for the November 2018 ballot. The fuel-tax increases from Senate Bill 1 that took effect on Nov. 1 amounted to 12 cents per gallon for gasoline, as well as adding 20 cents per gallon to excise taxes on diesel fuel and a 4 percent increase in sales taxes on diesel.
The new tax is expected to generate about $5 billion a year over the next decade for road repairs on which Caltrans and local public works crews have fallen behind, including pavement resurfacing and pothole repairs on state highways and local roads and backlogged maintenance on bridges and overpasses. Half of the money is designated for Caltrans for state projects, and the other half is destined for cities and counties for their road needs.
The Fresno event was the latest in a string of petition drives that began last week in San Diego, where Cox said volunteers have already collected more than 100,000 signatures. “This is the easiest sell ever,” Cox told The Bee. “People are up in arms over this tax. ... People don’t object to fixing roads, by any stretch.”
But, he argued that California already collects enough in fuel taxes for roads, and complained that the new tax doesn’t provide for construction of any new roads. “We want to add (road and highway) capacity, and do it with the billions of dollars that are already being collected.”
“We want infrastructure, but we want it done efficiently and without waste,” Cox said, adding that the legislation included no provisions to reform what he has described as a wasteful bureaucracy at the California Department of Transportation.
The Cox campaign said that by some estimates, the tax will cost families $700 or more per year. The campaign also expressed concern that there’s “zero guarantee that the money will be used to actually fund” the road work.
Correction: This story originally had an incorrect estimate for how much tax would be generated each year.
Representatives of local cities and counties, however, are looking forward to getting an extra $1.4 billion for repairs to local streets and roads over the next decade, including $517 million more for Fresno County and its cities. The city of Fresno is in line for an extra $148.6 million from the fuel tax.
A stretch of Highway 99 from downtown Fresno to a mile north of the San Joaquin River in Madera County is to receive $5.2 million to repair and resurface the freeway. The freeway work is scheduled to begin next summer. In Caltrans District 6, which includes Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties, nearly $422 million in road work is planned in 2017-18 on state highways 41, 46, 58, 63, 99, 168, 180, 198, Interstate 5 and others.
Across California, the statewide average price of unleaded regular gasoline was reported at $3.15 per gallon on Wednesday, down a nickel from a month ago in the days after the tax took effect, according to the AAA’s gas price report. In the Fresno metro area, the average price per gallon for unleaded regular on Wednesday was $3.14, down from $3.17 a month ago.
Diesel prices across California are an average of 11 cents higher this week than a month ago, at about $3.55 per gallon. In the Fresno market, the average price of diesel was reported at $3.56 per gallon, up 14 cents from a month ago.