The latest gasoline tax out of Sacramento, a levy of 5.6 cents per gallon set to take effect Monday, is fueling discussion locally over how to pay for road repairs, reduce traffic and otherwise improve the state's sprawling transportation infrastructure.

Kern County delegates to the state Legislature have slammed the tax as another misguided state policy raising consumers' transportation costs, with state Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, calling it a "morally wrong" tax on the people who can least afford it.

But is there a better way?

It's not as simple a question as it might seem. Consider that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, normally a dependably anti-tax voice, recently proposed raising the federal gas tax by 25 cents over the next five years as a way of shoring up the federal government's financially teetering Highway Trust Fund.

A complicating factor is that gas taxes produce diminishing returns. That's largely because increasing fuel efficiency and greater use of electric cars translate to less gas consumption per vehicle.

An option that has been discussed in recent years is a tax based on miles driven multiplied by vehicle weight, such that a tractor-trailer would pay more than a motorcycle traveling the same distance. Regardless, it'd still be a new tax likely to drive opposition.

NEED FOR FUNDING

A point on which no one disagrees is that something must be done to keep up a transportation system that constitutes a big if not the biggest public asset.

"Whether you call it a gas tax or you call it a user fee, we have to do something before some of our roads start turning to dirt," said Ahron Hakimi, executive director of the Kern Council of Governments, a regional authority that coordinates planning on transportation and other multijurisdictional matters.

The gas tax taking effect Monday results from the state Legislature's passage of Senate Bill 1 in 2017. It invests $5.4 billion during the next decade, with the largest share — $1.8 billion — funding maintenance and rehabilitation of the state highway system.

An additional $1.5 billion is being set aside to pay for repairs to local roads. SB 1 also sets aside money for work on bridges, culverts, pedestrian projects and bicycle infrastructure.

LOCAL SPENDING

A public database posted online at http://rebuildingca.ca.gov/map.html lists hundreds of transportation projects in Kern County, some estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars, that are expected to be funded by SB 1.

The new tax was preceded, under the terms of SB 1, by an increase in vehicle registration fees ranging between $25 to $175, as well as an earlier tax that raised gasoline prices by 12 cents per gallon, and 20 cents for diesel, as of Nov. 1, 2017.

One particularly controversial aspect of the law is that it has no sunset date. Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, a vocal critic of SB 1, notes it will rise indefinitely, at the same rate as inflation, with no need for a vote of lawmakers or the public.

PROPOSED ALTERNATIVE

Fong contends the tax is unnecessary. In 2017, he authored an alternative — Assembly Bill 1866 — he says would have raised $5.6 billion for road repairs by diverting existing, transportation-related taxes and fees that were originally intended for that purpose but which have since been spent on other budget priorities.

He cited as an example California’s truck-weight fee of $1.1 billion per year that has been redirected away from funding only transportation projects and now puts money into the state's General Fund.

Although AB 1866 did not pass, Fong has kept attention on finding ways to pay for transportation infrastructure repairs without levying a new tax. He notes that transportation spending accounts for less than 4 percent of the state's more than $200 billion 2019 budget.

"We don't adequately prioritize transportation in California," he said.

ADDITIONAL COSTS

Fong went on to note that about $1 of the price of gasoline in California, home to the nation's priciest vehicle fuel, comes from fees and regulations such as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the cap-and-trade system and changing fuel blends designed to reduce air pollution.

Grove was equally critical of the gas tax.

"California is the fourth-largest producer of crude oil in the country, yet our residents pay the most at the pump," she said in a written statement.

Hakimi, who characterized the gas tax more as a "temporary fix" than a long-term solution, said something's got to be done to preserve the infrastructure handed down by previous generations.

"To watch it deteriorate," he said, "is very frustrating to someone like me."

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

(26) comments

Richard P

If you don't like California, Move! Colorado and South Dakota would love to have you!

Vico17

@copper: have as many children as you can responsibly take care of. In your case, none. You complain about kids being treated inhumanely yet refuse to have the government provide beds for them. You rather kill (abort) children as many times as you wish yet complain when we try to catch illegals trafficing children across the border. Are you even aware coyotes are buying, renting children in order to have a better chance to make it across the border. Your hypocrisy is almost not worth responding to, but keep spreading your hate and lies about this country and our president. I truly feel for you and your twisted views.

Copper

Sad you choose to ignore the child abuse by this administration and Chumps policies. They gave literally lost almost 2,000 children and can’t find them after separating them from their families. Pathetic you think that’s cool and support it.

Vico17

Families? What families? Didn't you hear these kids are many times sold, rented and trafficked by lawless, immoral people like you. These kids need to be identified and reunited with their true families, which in many cases is impossible because the child was sold by their true families back in central America. Wake up you Dunce.

Copper

You have zero basis in facts or reality . Following your train of thought is saying two wrongs make a right. Unless you are denying the fact that President Chump and his ice gang at the border are abusing woman and children . So the federal judge that ordered for the return and accounting of the almost 2000 children that have been lost in ice custody to be found ( which hasn’t happened yet) made the whole thing up? And you are claiming to have morals? You are probably a holocaust denier and think slavery was a good thing. Crawl back in your hole. You are the epitome of what is wrong with this country right now and is immoral leader.

Copper

And yes I absolutely believe WOMEN have the right to CHOOSE . Look between your legs if you’re not female sit down and shut up. Vico17.

Vico17

I thought you cared about children's lives? Explain that one to me. On one hand you are ok with killing the most vulnerable, but on the other hand you pretent to care about children. Wow, you are so confused!!! Spoken like a true liberal, full of hate and confusion.

Copper

Women’s freedom of choice and reproductive rights is fundamental to a free and equal society. Conservatives pretend to care about children yet continue to throw them in cages in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, steal them from their families and then proceed to loose thousands and thousands of children in the system! Where are those kids? You don’t care about kids you only care about oppression of women. You are the one who is confused . What exactly did I say was hateful? You are the hateful one who doesn’t care about children once they are out of the womb. I would love to live in a world where all women were educated at an age before they became sexually active and given birth control for free . I would love to live in a society where women are not raped and impregnated by a rapist . I would love to live in a society where we wouldn’t have to choose to terminate a pregnancy because her life would end if it is carried to term. Grow up this is not a black and white issue . Again. Vico17 must identify as female since he keeps commenting on women’s reproductive rights .

Copper

Breaking news over 9,000 border patrol agents participating in racist and sexist and downright vulgar and laughing at inhumane treatment of detainees found and exposed on Facebook. This is what happens when you have a Chump in Chief promoting hate

Vico17

Facebook? What is that? Oh, the left-leaning, biased corporation(s), along with Google, Twitter, Amazon , Apple, Starbucks, whom you complained about not paying enough taxes for you to live on. Oh, ok. Just don't run Amazon out of town because we need the jobs here in Bakersfield (for those of us who actually work). Don't be like AOC and kill the goose the lay the golden eggs. Yeah, I completely trust what lies are spread on those platforms. Sure. Poor thing.

Copper

So now this is being investigated . Real fake huh. Disgusting humans.

Vico17

You are the biggest moron I have come across in some time. This blog is now worthless with your Fake bs. Your nonsense is typical liberal bla bla bla. Nonetheless, I'll pray for you and leave it in the hands of God to enlighten you and save your soul. Maybe.

Copper

I don’t need a fake Christian to pray for me , I believe Jesus when he said love God above all others and love your neighbors as yourself . Jesus would have whipped you out of his temple like the other Pharisees.

REMUDA

Got Gas ??? --- $2.93 Shell --- 20666 Tracy Ave & Lagoon Dr --- Buttonwillow --- 50 minutes ago >>>>> $2.93 Sinclair --- 20661 Tracy Ave & Lagoon Dr --- Buttonwillow 51 minutes ago >>>>>> $3.44 Costco --- 3800 Rosedale Hwy --- Bakersfield --- 1 hour ago --- http://www.bakersfieldgasprices.com/GasPriceSearch.aspx

REMUDA

Do ya like CA roads projects maps? ---- Here are the WIP's (note the bike/pedestrian ATP--SB1) --- http://rebuildingca.ca.gov/map.html ----- http://rebuildingca.ca.gov/map-updates.html

REMUDA

President Trump has called for a $1 trillion expansion of infrastructure spending in the United States. While the details of the president’s proposal have not been fully spelled out, it does appear that Washington would remain an important player in highway financing. ------ Despite commonly expressed concerns, highways and roads in the United States are not “crumbling,” but pavement conditions do vary considerably among states. ------- https://www.mercatus.org/publications/state-and-local-policy/federal-highway-funding-needs-change

REMUDA

Between 2005 and 2014, the federal government funded close to 40 percent of total state and local highway spending. Most of these federal expenditures take the form of grants or loan subsidies for new highway construction. Washington funded 86 percent of state and local capital spending over the 2005–2014 period.

REMUDA

The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been increased since 1993 and at least 11 states have gone longer than that since raising their own gas tax. -------- California “taxes the tax” by applying the combined local and state sales tax, which ranges from 7.25 to 9.75 percent, on top of the gasoline tax.

REMUDA

In reality, motor-fuel taxes have been looking less and less like user fees in California and elsewhere because state legislatures (and the U.S. Congress) periodically raid highway trust funds to pay for unrelated programs. A decade ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to use $1.1 billion in Public Transportation Account (money to offset huge shortfalls in general-fund revenue caused by excessive government spending). --------- The burden of the gas tax falls disproportionately on low-income Californians. The legislature responded by creating the Mass Transportation Fund, allowing $637 million to be moved out of the PTA. From 2007 to 2010, $1.3 billion in transportation funds was spent not to build or repair state roads but to finance other programs that were apparently more politically rewarding (i.e., generated more votes) than fixing bridges and filling potholes.

JSmith

The idea that the California gas tax was not enough to keep the roads maintained is a lie. California does not have a tax problem it has a spending problem. There has never been to my knowledge a complete accounting of where these gas tax funds actually go. I heard Gavin Newsome bragging on the news how much of a surplus they had in the state budget. I'm sure now a round of pay raises and pension increases are right around the corner. The roads will continue to be patched. The roads have no union representing them. Keep voting these liberal progressives back into our state government because they are doing so much good with your tax dollars-Suckers!

Boris25

Make sense to me, increase the gas tax because the State of California doesn't have enough money to fix our roads, but at the same time we do have enough money to offer free medical care to illegal aliens. No wonder California is where you walk you dog and the dog steps in human sh..t

Copper

So I guess we should just let more children suffer and die in cages without medical treatment . Healthcare is a human right. You can thank Reagan for the mentally ill out on the streets not getting treatment. Sorry you are so inconvenienced by the suffering human homeless and mental health crisis we are having right now. Crawl back in your hole.

Vico17

Why have kids if you can't afford to take care of them? Hey, let's have 6, 8, 10, 14 kids and have others pay for what they need. Even out of wedlock. Liberal mentality: let me spend my money on what I want, then have everyone else pay for what i need. Conservatives: let me take care of those who I am responsible for first, THEN, I'll buy myself a beer. Liberals: No! You can't buy yourself a beer because I have no money left and you should spend your money on me. I guess if you didn't spend all your money on drugs you could buy your own insurance.

Copper

So conservatives don’t want poor people having babies yet want to get ban abortions and not teach kids about safe sex . Ridiculous conservative mentality. Don’t want a living wage so people can afford to live yet allow multi billion dollae Corp pay zero on taxes and tax funded programs. Yeah makes since. You all must be part of the uber wealthy 1 percent right?

Vico17

Obama built those "cages" fyi. But I guess you were too busy to notice in 2014.

Copper

But mommy little Johnny did it first! Grow up wrong is wrong and no Obama did not initiate family separation at the mass numbers the racist and liar in chief is doing today.

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