As so many of us embark on our Memorial Day plans, we should remember that next year’s travel will be much more expensive.
A few weeks ago, Sacramento politicians went into a backroom to cook up a sharp increase in vehicle registration fees and the largest gas tax increase in state history, sticking it to working-class Californians and just about everyone living outside of the Bay Area or Los Angeles.
Gas taxes disproportionately hurt lower-income drivers, who have less money to spend on more expensive gas.
Rural drivers are hurt too, since they drive longer distances to get from point A to B. People in population centers aren’t nearly as affected, as they drive shorter distances and have alternatives like walking, biking or public transportation.
California already has one of the highest gas-tax burdens in the country, but our roads have deteriorated from years of neglect.
Instead of using the money to fix roads, the majority party regularly raided funds to pay for their out-of-touch ideas or to cover up years of budgetary irresponsibility.
To keep themselves honest, they say the gas-tax deal comes with constitutional protections to prevent future raiding of funds. But the majority party controls the budget, so they are admitting they can’t be trusted.
Maybe they could try some self-control instead – it would save us all some money.
Even if they send these protections to the ballot for voter consideration, history suggests they will find ways to weasel out. After all, voters last year approved a measure blocking backroom deals like the ones used to pass the gas tax and we see how quickly that was sidestepped.
They called skeptics of the backroom deal “freeloaders” and said this was the only way roads could get fixed. But let’s not forget that an independent report not even two years ago found Caltrans to be overstaffed by 3,500 employees, costing taxpayers a half billion dollars. Overstaffed and underworked. And they say they need more money.
And don’t expect much traffic relief. Bureaucrats unilaterally imposed a “road diet,” which means new roads and extra lanes will be built sparingly, if at all. Instead, much of the gas-tax funding will go to buses, trains and bike routes – doing diddly-squat for rural residents.
The higher taxes and fees will surely get some potholes patched and roads repaved, but they’ll also send millions to parks, university research and pre-apprenticeship programs. Before the bill was signed they were already diverting funds.
Obviously, an idea this terrible had trouble getting through the Legislature. Leadership intimidated and bought off legislators, and then punished dissenters in the aftermath.
A few holdouts traded their votes for pet pork projects in their districts; a hundred million dollars here, a half billion there.
Almost every Republican held strong. We were joined by two brave Democrats, who opposed on principle and were swiftly punished. One of them, a Bakersfield assemblyman, said he opposed because his constituents “drive too far to jobs that pay too little.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. But he was swiftly stripped of a committee chairmanship for acting in the best interest of his constituents.
The retribution was doled out by the same leadership team that last year took months to remove a Democratic committee chairman after a court ordered him to stay away from his wife because, according to court records, he had repeatedly beaten her. How’s that for priorities?
So enjoy this time with your friends and family, enjoy the sun in our beautiful state, and remember next year will cost you.
Tom Berryhill represents California’s 8th Senate District, including all or parts of Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne Stanislaus, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties.