October 30, 2017
By: Jack Batson
Of all the lightning rod topics that motivate conservatives, taxes head the list. “No new taxes” has been a sturdy war cry for them, although the result has often been unsolved problems for us.
Governments exist to solve problems that can’t be solved by private enterprise. That’s what I was taught and I’m still a fan after all these years. I don’t subscribe to the new paradigm that says that governments simply rip us off and can be dispensed with.
A good example to test this theory is roads.
Our roads and highways are in disgraceful shape. Our highways have $59 billion of deferred maintenance. Our cities and counties fall behind in street maintenance $7 billion every year.
Since we all use roads, you would think there would be a consensus to maintain them by raising taxes. But no. Hence the opinion piece recently from one of our Right Stuff columnists. His word, “gastaxstrophy,” he defined as “charging us twice for tax we already paid and they misappropriated,” spending it on “their wish list.”
In other words, California stole our gas tax money and wasted it on frivolities.
No wonder the strength of “No new taxes.” Cut the frivolities and you’ll find the money, then spend it on road maintenance. Simple.
But what are the facts? When the state hits a recession, the usual practice is to “defer maintenance.” Just like you might defer painting your house or buying new tires for your car for a year so you can pay the mortgage, governments around the world defer maintenance in downturns. Would you want to lay off more teachers than we did in the recent severe recession? Lay off more cops or release more prisoners? Your leaders declined to do that and borrowed $706 million from state transportation accounts over 2010 and 2011 instead. This leads to rumors because people don’t understand that the funds have to be paid back. They feel betrayed, saying, “The state stole our transportation funds. It’s thievery, plain and simple.”
That’s our Right Stuff man. He’s not a fan of the fix which is to raise taxes, pay the borrowed funds back and fix the whole mess.
So talk has finally ended and action has occurred. Now that the Democrats rule both houses in the California Legislature (barely), problems can be solved because the Republicans can’t obstruct. It’s simple: Raise the gas tax that has been stuck for 23 years (even though there are 8 million more Californians) and fix the roads.
The act is called Senate Bill 1. It raises the gas tax $0.12 over three years and the diesel tax by $0.20. It increases the yearly license fee modestly. Electric vehicles will soon pay $100 per year because they don’t use gas, but they do use the streets. The revenues will be split between state highways, cities and counties. It has 18 provisions in all.
And importantly, it pays back those loans that everyone is grumping about, $706 million, over two years.
Next, the Legislature is asking the voters of California to approve Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, an amendment that will guarantee that these new funds will never be borrowed by the Legislature.
Our local legislator, Jim Frazier, was a key player in all of this. He worked hard on SB 1 and was the author of ACA 5. He’s the chairman of the powerful Assembly Transportation Committee and sits on three special transportation committees as well. Hats off to Jim!
Make your own decision. I’m happy that we’re going to solve a huge problem. Fixing anything takes money.
Like Henry Clay exasperated in 1830 as a major road bill was vetoed, “Who’s against roads?” Turns out, lots of people. That wrecker Andrew Jackson was. Republicans still are.
Jack Batson is a former member of the Fairfield City Council.