Opinion Piece By Jon Coupal – October 21, 2019
Cassandra of Greek mythology was blessed with the gift of prophecy and doomed by the curse that no one would ever believe her.
Conservatives in California know just how she felt.
California’s modern day Cassandras have repeatedly warned about the misuse and diversion of public funds for roads and highways. In no other area have California voters been lied to more frequently and more brazenly than with transportation spending.
Nearly 30 years ago, voters were told that California’s roads, freeways and bridges were crumbling and that spending on transportation was so seriously inadequate that a gas tax increase and other taxes were desperately needed to save California from ruin.
Based on the promises from special interests — in a very well-funded political campaign — in 1990 voters approved in Proposition 111, a 9-cents-a-gallon tax increase combined with a 55 percent increase in truck weight fees.
Demonstrating that not much has changed in three decades, promoters of Prop. 111 trotted out long lists of projects that would be completed with the billions of dollars in new revenue. Advertising focused on the benefits of Proposition 111, without ever mentioning taxes.
Fast forward to 2017 with the infamous passage of Senate Bill 1, a massive tax increase of another 12 cents per gallon on gasoline, an additional 20 cents per gallon on diesel fuel and a sharp increase in the cost of vehicle registration.
Passage was secured in the Legislature through a toxic mix of threats and pork.
There was far more political blowback from the 2017 tax hike than politicians were anticipating.
Nervous legislators responded by swearing up and down that, unlike all the broken promises before, this time the money would actually go to roads and highways.
To show they meant it, the Legislature put Proposition 69 on the June 2018 statewide ballot and claimed it would protect those dollars against the type of diversion that had occurred in the past. But it soon became clear that Prop. 69, mythically named the “Transportation Taxes and Fees Lockbox,” was just another smokescreen.
An initiative that would have repealed the gas and vehicle tax hikes, Proposition 6, was defeated in 2018 following a massive political campaign that claimed that without the extra tax money, bridges would be unsafe and people would be killed by poorly maintained infrastructure.
Again, the advertising in opposition to the repeal was highly sophisticated and targeted. Voters in Los Angeles were told that all road projects in the Southland would stop dead in their tracks if Prop. 6 passed. Similar scare tactics were used in San Francisco, Sacramento and the Central Valley.
Once again, a promise in writing to dedicate gas tax dollars for road construction and maintenance was written in disappearing ink.
In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that has redirected gas tax money to fund railway systems and other projects, rather than repairing and upgrading the state’s broken highways and roads. The governor and Caltrans claim that the diversion of funds is justified by the need to do something about climate change.
Upon hearing of the cancellation of projects to widen bottlenecks on Highway 99, Fresno Assemblyman Jim Patterson, one of California’s responsible legislators, said angrily, “Instead of building capacity on our highways to move people and freight, Gov. Newsom is funding his pet rail projects throughout the state.”
Patterson called it a “theft of funds meant to improve our roadways” and warned that it is “a glimpse into the future.”
Cassandra couldn’t have said it better.
“The Central Valley is just the beginning,” Patterson predicted. “Other road projects will likely be next” to be canceled.
Conservative observers in California have, over the last two decades, implored voters not to trust the current political establishment.
Sadly, warnings about corruption, incompetence and misuse of public funds have too often gone unheeded as voters keep electing the same irresponsible politicians. Citizens are now paying the price for their disbelief.
Under the current political regime, Californians are suffering with the worst roads and yet pay the highest transportation taxes.
Cassandra warned of the downfall of Troy. Of course, that’s just a myth, unlike the U-haul trucks you see on the road as Californians flee the state. Those are entirely real.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
One thought on “The gas tax bait-and-switch”
Is it not the state controllers job to ensure money is not spent incorrectly. I thought missapropriation might be a felony. Why no prosecution ?