As if gas prices weren’t high enough in California, the gas tax is going up again on July 1.
An annual inflation adjustment was part of the transportation tax package pushed through the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017. The law known as SB 1 added 12 cents to the per-gallon cost of gasoline on November 1, 2017, then another 5.6 cents on July 1, 2019, and 3.2 cents more last July 1. The next upward adjustment will bring the California excise tax on gas to 51.1 cents per gallon. SB 1 also increased the taxes on diesel fuel and raised the cost of registering a vehicle.
California has the highest gas taxes in the nation. According to the American Petroleum Institute, the state’s taxes and fees add 63.05 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline. Including federal taxes, Californians pay 81.45 cents per gallon in government-imposed charges. It’s even higher for diesel fuel, with total state taxes and fees of 83.06 cents per gallon, 107.46 cents when federal taxes are added.
So Californians are paying a lot in taxes, but how much are we getting in road repair and maintenance?
According to a study by the Reason Foundation in November, 28.5% of California’s urban roads are in poor condition, the third-worst ranking in the country. Nationally, only 12.06% of pavement, on average, earns the ranking of “poor.”
That’s based on data on road conditions collected in 2018, when California had a massive backlog of deferred maintenance. The state’s long habit of collecting fuel taxes but not delivering on the promised road maintenance has helped to fuel distrust of government. During a 2018 campaign to repeal the gas tax hike, Caltrans showed voters a website with a list of projects and promised that those projects would be completed.
Now, unsurprisingly, Caltrans says it doesn’t have enough money to finish all the projects that were promised up and down the state. In a report to the California Transportation Commission, Caltrans said “the available funding will address about 45% of the total identified needs.”
The Reason Foundation report notes that while the national average cost of road maintenance in 2018 was $15,952 per mile, California pays about twice that much due to labor laws that require the highest wages in the region, and also due to the generally high costs in the state. California taxpayers pay the highest possible price for everything the government builds or maintains.
Caltrans says it has been able to improve 6,400 lane miles of pavement over the last three years, a rate of repair it claims is 40% better than before the tax increase of SB 1.
Republican lawmakers serving on the Legislature’s transportation committees were not impressed. Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, called it “an insult to California’s drivers to force them to pay the nation’s highest gas taxes and then say it’s not enough.” Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, said, “taxpayers have done their part.”
California taxpayers have once again found themselves stuck with higher taxes, lackluster results and now they’ll soon have to pay even more.
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