Sacramento Should Stop New Tax On Driving

Michele Steel
Orange County Supervisor (2nd District) and Former California State Board of Equalization Member

Do you want the government following your car every day? Most of us don’t like that Orwellian vision, but a tax scheme brewing in the legislature might do just that.

Hardworking Californians don’t want a new tax on driving. As of December, the state pilot program to create a new mileage tax had only convinced 570 Californian drivers to sign up- a tiny portion of their 5,000-driver goal. The reason Californians aren’t participating is clear, we don’t trust Sacramento with more of our money.

Proponents of this new tax on driving claim it will replace the existing taxes on gas, but when is the last time you heard of a government eliminating a revenue source? The California Sales tax was created as a temporary “emergency measure” in 1933, and it never went away. As Ronald Reagan said, “government programs, once launched, never disappear.”

A similar pilot program underway in Oregon requires drivers to pay new mileage taxes on top of their existing gas taxes. Drivers must wait to get a refund after the fact. This monthly billing process will only create greater issues with the creation of a bureaucratic collections agency.

Proponents also claim gas tax revenue is drying up, but according to the most recent annual report from the California Board of Equalization, gas taxes collections were up a half billion dollars in fiscal year 2013-14 from the year before, and gas consumption was also up by over 100 million gallons during the same period. Despite the increase of fuel-efficient vehicles, gasoline usage is not in terminal decline. Overall tax revenues have also continued to grow, and the state budget has reached record spending levels every year of Governor Brown’s time in office.

There’s an irony here as well: State government is hard at work to get Californians to drive less, but at the same time they want to tax us based on how much we drive. Just as one example, many cap-and-trade tax grant programs require projects to show they will reduce “vehicle miles travelled” before they can be eligible for funding. But the vehicle mileage tax only works if Californians keep their “vehicle miles travelled” up. By pushing two contradictory systems the state is setting taxpayers up for yet another failed tax scheme.

The existing mess of a gas tax system we have today is not the result of an outdated tax policy, or because of Californians using less gas. It is due, in part, to a decision by Sacramento politicians to divert gas taxes from roads and use them instead for other programs. Why would we trust that adding a new tax on drivers would fix the problem? Might it not be more likely this new tax, just like the old taxes, is another attempt to take more money from struggling California drivers?

The problem with transportation taxes is not with collections, it’s with spending. Money meant for roads and highways is consistently being raided to balance the budget or put towards newer programs deemed more important than safe and reliable roads. Adding a new tax system will not fix that problem.

The first step to creating a more transparent tax system is ensuring that the tax dollars we work so hard to pay are going where they should go. This means that politicians should turn their attention away from new tax schemes, and toward ensuring that all transportation related revenue be spent on funding roads and highways.

Today, hardworking, long-driving Californians can’t trust what Sacramento will do with our tax dollars. Until we can, I urge Sacramento to park the new tax on driving and to lose the keys.

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