Republicans’ gas-tax repeal: bumpy roads forever!

Jeff vonKaenel

Barring divine or devilish intervention, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom will be our next governor. Newsom and his fellow Democratic candidates received 62 percent of the votes in the primary, while the Republicans were only able to muster 37 percent of the vote. And, making the outcome even more certain, Democrats typically turn out in higher percentages in the November election than they do in the primary.

So the Republicans have understandably given up on winning the governor’s race. Instead they plan to rally their base with something they consider much more winnable: Repealing the 2017 gasoline tax.

This repeal initiative has collected over 940,000 signatures and will almost certainly qualify for the November ballot. According to Ballotpedia, major donors for the repeal are: The California Republican Party, which has ponied up $400,000; United States House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader and likely future Speaker Kevin McCarthy, whose political action committee has contributed $300,000; and Republican gubernatorial candidate and likely loser John Cox, whose committee has also chipped in $250,000.

The importance of this issue was brought home to me when our N&R Publications division helped create a publication, Rebuilding California, that clearly demonstrated the need for increased funding for our failing transportation infrastructure.

While it may be good politics to pretend we can fix California roads without raising taxes, just as it appears to be good politics to give rich people tax breaks to increase revenue through the magic of supply-side economics, we live in the real world. In the real world, fixing roads costs money.

And in the real world, our roads and bridges and transit systems need to be fixed. The last time California increased its gasoline tax was 1994. In 1994, the average cost of a gallon of gas was $1.11 with 29.7 cents going to fix roads. Now, gas prices have nearly tripled, while only 40 percent more money goes to fix roads, thanks to a 12-cent gasoline tax increase that went into effect last November.

Why do we need this gas tax?

First of all, in the real world, there’s inflation. The road work that cost $1 in 1994 now costs $1.71.

Secondly, cars are much more energy efficient in 2018. In 1994, the typical car got 16.7 miles to the gallon. Today, the average car gets closer to 25.2 miles per gallon. So, each car now creates approximately 50 percent more wear and tear on the roads per gallon than in 1994.

In fact, it’s unclear that the 2017 gas tax increase will actually be enough to fix our roads. But clearly, it will help.

It is ridiculous that we are even having this discussion. Our roads are a mess, causing damage to cars and many wasted hours as Californians sit stalled on congested freeways. The fact that a such modest proposal is the Republicans’ big issue for November is sad. The so-called business-friendly party does not know much about business realities. What business could have their costs increase by 71 percent and receive 50 percent less revenue and then be expected to provide the same services?

That is what the Republicans are asking the transportation departments of California to do.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.