The Gas Tax. Who Cares?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Apparently, it’s time to choose up sides about the gas tax.

What’s the point?

There’s not much good to say about the legislative package that raised the gas tax to pay for a relatively small amount of road construction. After generations of neglect, California’s needs so far outpace the relatively small amount of money raised won’t do much.

And there’s not much good to say about the opponents of the gas tax. It’s a relatively small tax that is being blown up into a big issue. Why? Politics. The gas tax can be exaggerated into some sort of attack on the people, and used to recall a state legislator in Orange County and maybe even advance a ballot initiative campaign that will bring income to some consultants and activists.

So a pox on both their houses. Because the gas tax fight, yes or no, distracts from big issues in the state.

On infrastructure, how is California going to build and pay for not only maintenance but 21st century infrastructure for transportation, water, energy and education. It’s a huge question but there’s no plan, and little debate on that subject.

On taxes, when is California going to reform its broken tax system. The state’s tax system is so out of whack that there’s an opportunity for reforms that lower rates, retain progressivity, and produce larger and more reliable revenues for the state. But such reform is basically off the table.

Instead, we’re arguing about a small gas tax and roads backstop.

And you wonder why so few people pay attention to California politics and government.

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