California roads are a maze of potholes. City streets and highways often look like parking lots. Public transit could use improvements in frequency and cleanliness. Ah, but California has lovely hiking trails, bike paths and racks, “walkable streets,” and sustainable development. So, when politicians ask taxpayers to fork over money to fix long-neglected roads and transportation, what do taxpayers say? Do taxpayers believe potholes will be fixed, or traffic flow improved? Apparently a lot of people have no such belief, and are ready to use the only tool at their disposal to say so: The Voter Initiative.
California’s voter initiative process provides some balance of power in a state that is so overwhelmingly one sided. The dominant tax-and-spend, sustainable-development legislators in Sacramento need to contend with voters that do not cave in but fight back via the initiative process.
Senate Bill 1 May Have Gone Too Far
As the Nine-County Coalition indicated in its review of Senate Bill 1, the transportation bill Governor Jerry Brown approved April 2017, the bill may have gone too far. Californians pay one of the highest per capita baskets of taxes in the nation, and the state has one of the biggest well-paid bureaucracies. SB1 increases taxes some more, and adds another layer of bureaucratic management to transportation. Also this transportation bill is set to spend a whole lot of money in what most Californians do not view as transportation, such as state parks, boating programs, and trains to nowhere.
Of course, not everyone is opposed to the provisions of SB1. Those who stand to benefit substantially from the bill, such as construction companies, would be supporters. Many businesses, such as those with heavy transportation costs, will have to weigh the promised benefits of better roads against the higher costs of gasoline and diesel fuels.
However, there are plenty of voters who are ready to fight back against the provisions of SB1. Of those provisions, the ones that galvanized voters into action are the taxes and fees that came with the bill, especially the $0.12 per gallon increase in the gas tax. The November 2018 ballot will likely see two voter initiatives proposing repeal.
For reference, the website of the Office of the California Attorney General has a list of initiatives submitted for the 2018 ballot in the section “Initiatives: Active measures.” The website of the California Secretary of State has a list of initiatives ready to circulate for signatures, “Initiatives and Referenda Cleared for Circulation.”
Gas Tax Initiatives Likely to be on the November 2018 Ballot
* Type: Statute
* Proposal: Repeals sections of Senate Bill 1 that increase gas taxes by $0.12 per gallon, diesel fuel taxes by $0.20 per gallon, sales taxes on diesel fuels by 4%, and vehicle registration fees by $25-$175; and sections that require a $100 registration fee on zero-emission vehicles and establishment of a new Independent Office of Audits and Investigations.
* Submitter: Travis Allen, Incumbent California Assembly Member and candidate for Governor.
* Principal Supporter: Travis Allen.
* Qualifying Requirements: 365,880 signatures of registered voters submitted by January 8, 2018.
* Website and Petition: No Gas Tax
* Type: Constitutional Amendment
* Proposal: Amends the California Constitution to require that any gas tax or vehicle license fee imposed after January 1, 2017, be suspended until presented to voters and approved.
* Submitter: Thomas W. Hiltachk
* Principal Supporters: John Cox, businessman and candidate for governor; Carl DeMario, former San Diego City Councilman; Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association.
* Qualifying Requirements: 585,407 signatures of registered voters submitted by May 21, 2018.
Perspective on the “Long-Neglected Roads” Argument
Supporters of Senate Bill 1 argue that California's infrastructure has been long neglected, and now it is time to raise funds to fix the disrepair. Forgotten in this argument are the many "transportation" bills that passed during the last five or so years. Here are sample bills and a sample plan.
SB 99 was approved by Governor Jerry Brown on September 26, 2013. The bill amended Section 164.56 of the Streets and Highways Code to create the “Active Transportation Program” and allocate $7,000,000 annually to the Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program Fund. The bill stated that “The Legislature finds and declares that the construction of bikeways pursuant to this article constitutes a highway purpose under Article XIX of the California Constitution and justifies the expenditure of highway funds therefor.”
SB 1204 was approved by Governor Jerry Brown September 21, 1014. The bill created the “California Clean Truck, Bus, and Off-Road Vehicle and Equipment Technology Program, to be funded from cap and trade revenues, to fund zero- and near-zero emission truck, bus, and off-road vehicle and equipment technologies and related projects, as specified, with priority to be given to certain projects, including projects that benefit disadvantaged communities.”
Developed by the California Department of Transportation, starting around 2014, this plan lays out goals for a multimodal, environmentally oriented, and socially equitable transportation system to which residents must adapt. The plan offers “three transportation scenarios that utilize a cumulative process where each builds upon the prior scenario.” In scenario number three, to be achieved by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 80% below that of 1990.
It would appear that if this plan is serious about a multimodal system, a miracle needs to happen at some point in some area of the plan, including materializing baskets full of taxpayer cash to develop zero-emission everything.
Obviously, California is littered with potholes not because of lack of taxpayer funds, but because allocation of funds has gone to build other than roads. Does the California Transportation Plan 2040 promise anything different?