California voters will have the chance to decide on Nov. 6 if they want to keep a fuel tax funding road improvement projects, or repeal it for lower taxes and streamlining of other revenues.
Proposition 6, is a ballot initiative aimed at the repeal of Senate Bill 1, which led to a $52 billion gas tax over 10 years for transportation improvements. If Prop. 6 passes, SB 1 will be overturned and the tax will be repealed. If Prop. 6 fails, the SB 1 gas tax will stay in place.
Local proponents of Prop. 6 say the money from the tax hasn’t been properly allocated, while its opponents, who want to retain the tax, argue that that funding is vital for roads under construction in the SCV, such as the I-5.
SB 1 was passed by the Legislature in April 2017, and comes out to an extra 12 cents per gallon of gas for statewide constituents. The tax was meant to fund transportation projects. To ensure all of the new taxes would go to such programs, the Legislature passed an accompanying constitutional amendment that created a “lock-box” for the new funds, Prop. 69, prohibiting revenues collected for transportation from going anywhere else.
Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said that while the “lock-box” was supposed to go into effect this January, 30 percent of the funds from SB 1 money began funneling into non-transportation-related projects, such as the state parks system and high-speed rail, during the state budgeting process in June 2017.
“We want to spend taxpayer money more efficiently,” he said. “If people vote for Prop. 6, that will require the Legislature to craft a new plan that will have to be approved by the people. The Democratic supermajority will have to negotiate across the aisle. And the reason that’s important is it brings more accountability into the system.”
Christy Smith, a candidate in the 38th Assembly District race, said she had heard from her local constituents about both their concerns with gas prices and the safety of the roads under construction.
“I understand the needs and concerns of everyone in this district I’ve heard from, from students commuting to school to folks commuting to work and have those long drives,” Smith said. “I understand at a time where inflation has hit us everywhere, one more cost seems a significant challenge. But I’ve also heard from folks that say their routes to work are impaired by ongoing and incomplete road projects, as well as damage to vehicles while driving on these roads, and they want relief, as well.”
Wilk said a study conducted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan state agency, found the California Department of Transportation has 3,500 redundant jobs at the cost of $550 million a year that could go toward funding transportation projects in place of the gas tax.
SB 1 was also limiting because it kept new road construction to a maximum of 5 percent, he said.
“The big thing that’s frustrating is the attorney general will write the summary in such a way that it confuses you on what you’re voting for,” he said. “But the takeaway is this: if you vote for Prop. 6, you will force the Sacramento political elites to actually develop a responsible plan that builds and maintains our roads at a reasonable cost.”
Critics like Skip Carter, former deputy commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, disagreed, citing the damage they perceived repealing SB 1 would cause to present projects.
“The last thing in the world we should be doing is eliminating road safety and infrastructure projects,” Carter said. “But that’s exactly what Prop. 6 will do. It will have a hugely negative and local impact — making our roads and bridges less safe, more deteriorated and more congested.”
Smith’s opponent in the 38th Assembly District race, incumbent Assemblyman Dante Acosta, said money needed to be handed back to the taxpayers in the interest of holding legislators accountable for what it was being used for.
Acosta, R-Santa Clarita, had voted against SB 1 when it was proposed. He spoke of the general fund growing each legislative year, but road funding diverted during the “Great Recession” not restored nor added funding.
“We had a $9 billion budget surplus last year, and we should be prioritizing projects like roads out of our budget surplus,” he said. “Not funding special projects like Gov. Brown’s high speed rail. If Prop. 6 fails and SB 1 is repealed, then gas taxes would go down, and there’d be extra money back in California voters’ pockets.”
Over $1 billion in vehicle wait fees for truckers were also still being diverted to the general fund even post-recession, Acosta said, and that money needed to go to funding.
Smith said money going into California’s rainy day fund was to ensure California could survive in another economic downturn.
“The fund has begun to be paid back, as well as a number of funds that were impacted by the great recession,” she said. “But one thing that will surely inhibit our economic growth is if we don’t fix our transportation systems.”