SB 1, AKA The Denial of California’s Spending Problem

In the wake of passage of Jerry Brown’s ridiculous transportation tax, also known as SB1, we, as taxpayers, are forced to confront several uncomfortable realities. Number one, those who voted for this bill do not care about you. How could they? You, John/Jane Q. Public are now on the hook, yet again, to bail our legislators out after mismanaging and downright stealing the current transportation funding. This is par for the course in Sacramento. The people know this. Gov. Brown used backroom deals and his political power to force a tax on us that we would not have imposed on ourselves. A recent study spelled it out in no uncertain terms:

Overall, the survey found that respondents opposed a gas tax increase 63-37 percent, and higher vehicle registration fees 74-26 percent.

Granted, this was a survey from 2015, but I highly doubt public sentiment has changed all that much to be in favor of these increases. It’s apparent they’d still be largely opposed to them given the fact that Gov. Brown set the legislature to this task rather than putting it to the people. He knew the road to his bill’s success could be paved by greasing the right palms in the Senate and Assembly.

And grease he did. That leads us to uncomfortable reality number two: Gov. Jerry Brown used $500 million of our tax dollars to bribe Sen. Anthony Cannella to vote for his bill. I know this is how is how business is conducted in Sacramento. Hell, this is how business is conducted at every level of government. That doesn’t make it palatable. We, the working and middle classes, were sold out so Mr. Cannella could secure a road extension and a few train stations for his district. Color me unmoved.

State senator Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

But it’s just a $0.12 increase at the pumps, right? That’s not all that bad. Well, considering that this increase will likely put us at the top of the heap when it comes to gas prices (barring any hurricane or other weather related fuel scarcity that occasionally strikes Hawaii), I’d say a $0.12 increase is actually pretty steep. Couple that with the increase in diesel fuel costs ($0.20 per gallon), vehicle registration fees ($25-$175, depending on the vehicle), and the addition of a $100 yearly fee for zero-emission vehicles, I’d say we’re running up a pretty significant tab. Don’t forget that these taxes are now tied to inflation, so each year they have the potential to go up.

“This is a tax increase. The voters got no say in it and I think that’s wrong. And secondly, to make it even worse, it’s tied to inflation so this gas tax is gonna continue to rise in the future and the voters won’t have any input on that,” Mainschein said.

These are increases that will be felt hard by those who can’t afford them. The working class. The middle class. People who do not make enough to afford rents close to their work, so they have to commute every day. People who are locked into houses or who don’t want to pull their children out of their current school districts just so they can have a shorter drive to work. This is a direct tax on these people. On you and me. Why do we need to be taxed more than we already are? Gov. Brown says it’s to pay for the roads.

But why doesn’t the current gas tax cover the cost of maintaining the roads? Well, back in 2010, our illustrious Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature decided to perform some creative ledger balancing by swapping some of the transportation taxes around so they could more easily siphon off critical road repair revenue sources to the general fund to be used on various other non-transportation related projects. See, back in 2002, voters approved Proposition 42, which was supposed to ensure that revenue collected from gas taxes was spent on transportation related items. Things like road repair and public transportation. By lowering the sales tax and increasing the excise tax (keeping the revenue flow flat, but sourced differently), Gov. Schwarzenegger was able to use that excise tax money to fund all manners of things. Things like funding CalPERS or paying for the 3,500 or so unnecessary Caltrans workers received a much needed injection of capital.

So what could we have done instead? Well, if it were up to me I would have put a stop to Gov. Brown’s blunder of a bullet train. That $64 billion can be used for so many other things. Useful things. Things everyone would (and should) agree are much more beneficial to the state than a so-called bullet train. Things like widening and resurfacing every major interstate in the state or creating and maintaining much needed water infrastructure. If we just stopped now and cut our losses we could use that $64 billion to make California a better place for everyone, not just the contractors working on an ever-increasing budget. We also would be investing in meaningful projects, not one that might end up costing taxpayers far more than they bargained for.

I, for one, am not content to just sit idly by and let Gov. Brown and the legislature continue to tax the working and middle classes out of this state. It seems like they won’t be content until only the wealthy will be able to afford to live in California. Remember when we recalled Gray Davis because he tripled the vehicle license fee? Where is our righteous indignation now? This is my state as much as it is theirs. The only difference is they work for us. At least they’re supposed to. I believe it’s time we reminded them of that fact. Every single legislator who voted for SB1 should be recalled. Every one. They’ve chosen the easy way out of a bad situation they’ve created. They must be made to answer for this. Democratically, mind you,  but answer for it all the same.

About Sean Cocca

Born and raised in Orange County, Sean graduated from CSULB with a degree in Journalism -- something he has tried (and failed) to exorcise from his life. He resides in North OC. He's grown far more politically independent over the years and staunchly refuses to join a political party. Follow him on twitter @NPPinCA.