By Clayton Huckaby
Kern Valley Sun
On Friday, April 28, Governor Jerry Brown signed California State Senate Bill 1 (SB-1), the controversial gas tax increase, into law.
SB-1, a law that Governor Brown personally pushed for, will put an excise tax on gas further increasing California’s already high gas prices. According to money.cnn.com, California has the second highest gas prices in the country. The state is narrowly beat out by Hawaii, but this new tax will do a lot to bridge the gap between the two states and make them on par with each other.
Although the opposition for the bill largely followed partisan lines, one Democrat in the State Assembly came out against the bill because he believed that it was a regressive tax that disproportionately affected poor and middle class Americans. Assemblyman Rudy Salas, a Democrat from the Bakersfield area who represents constituents in both Kings County and Kern County, was removed from his position as the chairman of the Business and Professions Committee.
Although neither Salas nor Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon would comment as to why Salas was removed from the position, the announcement came shortly after Salas announced that he would not be voting for the bill. Despite Salas’s and Republican opposition to the bill, the bill was passed by both the California State Assembly and State Senate, and it was signed into law by Governor Brown.
This means that come November 1, gas prices will be affected by a 12 cent increase. The bill will also increase the price of a gallon of diesel by 20 cents per gallon. The eight cent disparity between the two is because diesel currently does not have an excise tax on it, but unleaded gasoline does. Not only does the bill raise the cost of a gallon of gas or diesel, but it will also raise the cost of vehicle registration.
On January 1, 2018, the cost of registering a vehicle will be increased anywhere from $25 to $175 depending on the value of the vehicle. Furthermore, beginning on January 1, 2020, those that own a zero-emission vehicle, such as a Tesla or Chevy Volt, will be required to pay a $100 vehicle registration fee.
The bill gathered support largely because it promises to improve California’s decaying roads. It should be noted that while the bill will provide for the money to go toward other projects besides the roads, largely the money is earmarked for road repair and maintenance. In fact, one of the earliest projects that will be paid for through this bill will be improvements on Interstate 5 which passes through Bakersfield.
Largely, the money earmarked for projects outside of road repair and maintenance are there because the California Constitution and other existing laws require that gasoline excise tax revenues be spent on projects that directly benefit all modes of transportation that contribute to fund. For example, a certain portion of the money raised from the unleaded gasoline excise tax will be given to the State Parks and Recreation Department to help maintain lakes and ATV trails.
Likewise, only 50 percent of the money raised from the diesel excise tax will be spent on road repair while the other 50 percent of the money will be expended on corridor-based freight projects as nominated by local agencies and the state.
Only a portion of the new fees on vehicle registration will go towards road improvement. The bill provides for the money raised from both fees to be earmarked for other projects that are designed to improve transportation in California. Although the other projects mentioned in the bill are too numerous to list, one of the most controversial is that some of the money provided for in the bill is earmarked for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP).
According to Department of Transportation, “the goal of the TIRCP is to provide monies to fund transformative capital improvements that modernize California’s intercity rail, bus, ferry and rail transit systems to achieve the following objections: reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; expand and improve rail service to increase ridership; integrate the rail service of the state’s various rail operations, including integration with the high-speed rail system; and improve safety.”
If you would like the read through the bill yourself, it is available at www.leginfo.legislature.ca.gov. Simply search for Senate Bill 1.