Editorials

Did Gavin Newsom pull a fast one on California with the gas tax?

It is a distinction nobody wants: California has the highest gas prices in the nation.

With a statewide average on Tuesday of $4.18 per gallon of regular unleaded, California easily surpassed the second-highest state, Hawaii, which was at $3.67, according to the AAA fuel survey.

Opinion

The reason for the autumn price jump, reported The Bee’s Tim Sheehan, was maintenance issues at four of California’s 27 refineries. Take one or more of them offline for repairs, the supply gets tighter — and prices go up. Fuel industry experts expect California’s price to start dropping in coming days as refineries ramp back up to regular production. But for now, prices are the highest they have been in five years.

Remember the tax

One thing that has not changed is the impact of the gas tax charged by the state. In this, California also has the dubious distinction of being No. 1.

As of July 1, the price of a gallon of California gas included 57.8 cents of state tax and fees. Add in 18.4 cents of federal taxes, and that is just over 76 cents in taxes for every gallon pumped.

California voters had the chance to ditch a hike in the gas tax last November, and the wise voters in Fresno County did just that. They supported a gas-tax repeal measure on the ballot by a 52% to 42% margin. The Bee supported the repeal, arguing that in California’s $200 billion annual budget, there surely had to be adequate funding for road maintenance.

Unfortunately, voters statewide bought into the panic campaigns pushed by labor unions and city-county governments, which worried about how they would get road projects done without the tax, and the repeal was handily defeated.

But wait, there’s more

It gets worse.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in late September signed an executive order that lets him redirect transportation funds to programs addressing climate change. The more than $5 billion in annual transportation spending now going toward construction, operations and maintenance of roadways will instead be prioritized toward reducing congestion via “innovative strategies designed to encourage people to shift from cars to other modes of transportation.” Those modes include mass transit, walking and biking, the governor’s executive order said.

The overall goal, Newsom said, is to “reverse the trend of increased fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transportation sector.”

Climate change is a real threat, so Californians driving less is actually a laudable goal. But then there will be declining tax revenues, and that means less money for Caltrans to fix roads — or put toward the climate change agenda.

In the November 2018 election, opponents of the repeal promised that gas tax revenues would be spent to fix California’s crumbling roads and weakening bridges. Now concerns about climate change alter that equation.

There is a term for this: bait and switch.

Impact on the poor

Sheehan also reported recently that the median household income in Fresno County last year was among the 10 lowest in the state — 30% lower than the statewide median. Fresno County had the fifth-highest rate of people living below the poverty line.

When the price of gas rises to current levels, it poses a real and immediate hardship. For some in Fresno County, it means tough spending choices. In a very real way for some families, do they buy gas or food?

Taken together, this is why citizens get cynical about politicians: promises made, but not kept. Meanwhile, Californians shell out more for gas than anyone else.

At some point, Sacramento — meaning Democrats, with their supermajority domination and the governor’s office — have got to get real. Money might grow on trees for them, but not for the rest of us brave enough to continue to live in California.

There is a solution: Stop raising taxes. And spend taxes on what you promise. It’s that simple.

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