Ventura County Star Opinion Editorial: Bad roads, not gas taxes, slow holiday trips

December 2, 2017
By: David Fleisch 
This year appears headed toward a record number of driving trips for the holidays — 51 million people in the United States will be driving this season, the highest figure since 2005.

However, a recent story in the Ventura County Star pointed to the recently implemented state gasoline tax increase as a reason for “some people cutting back on driving plans this holiday season.”

This story is not a complete depiction of current driving practices. It also didn’t portray what benefits the gas tax, contained in state Senate Bill 1, will provide drivers, and what efforts agencies like the Ventura County Public Works Agency have taken to maintain safe, secure and convenient avenues of transportation.

Let’s look at the facts about gas taxes and driving:

  • While people in The Star article were quoted as cutting back on driving because of the gas tax hike, the actual increase due to the tax is 12 cents per gallon. That comes to an extra $1.20 for 10 gallons of gas, or $2.40 for 20 gallons, figures that pale in comparison to the cost of a cup of coffee or a quick breakfast. Based on the prices quoted in the article, the tax increase is less than 4 percent of the current price of a full gallon of gas.
  • Gas prices fluctuate for a wide variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the change in taxes. Hurricane Harvey’s impact on Texas is still boosting gasoline prices, and overall prices nationwide are up 37 cents a gallon over the same time last year. In addition, California’s annual switch between winter and summer blends of gasoline has had a greater impact on prices than has SB 1.

Now, let’s look at what SB 1 actually will do for drivers:

  • The tax increase is projected to provide more than $380 million over the next 10 years just for Ventura County, to improve and maintain the roads we drive on, the bridges we cross, the bike lanes we use and more. This includes basic maintenance like pothole filling, and also overlays on an entire road to improve the surface.
  • Between Nov. 1, when the gas tax increase took effect, and June 30, 2018, the Ventura County Public Works Agency will spend $3.2 million of SB 1 funds on road resurfacing and another $600,000 on pedestrian and bike lane improvements.
  • The agency is diligent about maintaining roads in unincorporated parts of the county and has received accolades for its work. But without SB 1 funds, the county road network would noticeably decline in a few years.

SB 1 included California’s first transportation tax increase in 23 years. Without well-maintained highways, bridges, bike lanes and other structures, individual costs will escalate through more frequent and more expensive car maintenance.

In addition, across the county you might expect reduced safety in crossing waterways, more closures and detours, and extra time needed to get from one point to the other.

The word “tax” may be the most disliked word in the English language. But whether it’s visiting family and friends over the holidays, traveling to and from work, shopping, or just taking a pleasure trip, we need the funding to keep the network functioning.

David Fleisch is transportation director for the Ventura County Public Works Agency.