When California’s gasoline tax went up a few weeks ago, there was a flurry of articles about how state motorists now pay the highest such tax in the country and how gasoline here typically costs $1 a gallon more than most other states.
I wouldn’t mind paying more if I could boast that we have the best streets and highways. Alas, we don’t. Various surveys regularly rank our roads poorly. Just recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave California a “D” for our road conditions, saying they are some of the worst in the country.
Excuse me if I’m skeptical that the new gas tax will improve the condition of our streets. After all, the state doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to fulfilling promises from tax proposals. You know, if you agree to raise taxes, we’ll agree to do X.
In 2004, California voters approved a 1 percent surtax on millionaires. The money was to bankroll various mental health treatment facilities; after all, many of the homeless are on the street because of their mental challenges. But in 2016, the independent oversight agency called the Little Hoover Commission essentially threw up its hands, reporting that auditors couldn’t really say where the money had gone – $17 billion by that point. The state at the time vowed to do better. Three years have gone by and let me ask: Since then, does it seem to you that $2 billion or so a year, about the amount the tax raises, is being spent on mental health? Again, that’s $2 billion a year.
Likewise, the state has raised about 50 percent more on K-12 education since 2012, when a new tax was passed. But test scores have not improved. Where’s that extra money going?
In Los Angeles, we’ve passed taxes recently to help the homeless. Let me ask: Do you want to bet that the number of homeless will be reduced in the next few years?
Based on past performance, I’m betting that the state’s road conditions don’t improve as a result of the extra tax money.