Lack of housing in California is a big problem. But, so is Gov. Gavin Newsom’s solution of withholding transportation money from local governments that do not hit housing goals.
Newsom noted that cities and counties are required to plan enough housing to meet population increases. However, most local governments don’t meet the requirement. The carrot-and-stick solution the new governor put forth is to stop sending transportation money to local governments if they fall short of their housing goals.
Incentives can work and using a stick is fine, but the carrot in this formula is not one that could be considered earned by appropriate behavior. Transportation funds, especially through the recent gas tax increase, have already been earned by the local governments because taxpayers in local communities are paying transportation taxes with the express understanding that are to be used to repair the roads.
Newsom originally stated that the withheld gas tax money would be the revenue generated by SB 1, the gas tax increase signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in April 2017. Those revenues were subject to a failed repeal attempt with Proposition 6 last November. Later, Newsom backed off specifically targeting SB 1 funds in deciding which transportation dollars could be put on hold.
The problem is the political establishment worked hard to defeat Proposition 6 by promising that road repairs would be made with the new tax dollars. Those promises of road fixes go beyond the dollars raised specifically by SB 1. Taxpayers would be rightfully indignant if they learn transportation revenue is withheld because of a squabble over housing, especially considering the heavily advertised campaign to promote transportation fixes we so recently went through.
Many Californians would see just another broken promise from government officials if all the rhetoric over the Proposition 6 campaign dedicated to promoting road repairs and transportation improvements would be wiped away by gubernatorial fiat.
There might even be grounds for a legal challenge. All taxpayers, no matter which community they reside, are paying into transportation funds and expect to see some return on their investments.
Newsom is focused on the housing crisis in California as he should be. He has other proposals in his budget to incentivize home building. But pulling gas tax and transportation funds from fixing another serious problem in California should not be included as a solution. Promises to voters and taxpayers must be kept.