No on California Proposition 6
Proposition 6 would repeal last year’s gas tax and vehicle fee, which generates over $5 billion per year for transportation infrastructure. It would also ban the legislature from enacting future gas tax increases without a ballot measure.
Projects funded by Prop 6 improve the reliability and effectiveness of California’s transportation networks, investing largely in vehicle infrastructure but also in multimodal transport like biking and walking projects. Funding these improvements with taxes on gas and vehicles isn’t just logical, it would make a major dent in climate change goals.
Gas taxes have many benefits
By 2019, the bill which Prop 6 would repeal — the Road Repair and Accountability Act (RRAA) — would increase the gas tax by $0.19/gallon, from $0.28 to $0.47, and by a similar amount for diesel. A 2009 paper estimated that “a 10 cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax would reduce carbon emissions from vehicles in the United States by about 1.5%.” RRAA can therefore be expected to reduce California carbon emissions by 2.8 percent.
As 41 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, RRAA’s gas tax alone may be reducing California’s GHGs by 1.2 percent. RRAA’s vehicle registration fee of $25 to $175 (depending on the value of the vehicle) amplifies this effect by further disincentivizing car usage.
According to data from the OECD, the average gas tax rate among the 34 advanced economies is $2.62 per gallon. In fact, the U.S.’s gas tax is the second lowest (Mexico is the only country without a gas tax) and has a rate less than half of that of the next highest country, Canada, which has a rate of $1.25 per gallon. (Tax Foundation, 2015)
A 2015 study also shows that gas taxes can make us safer, finding “a 10.0% increase in gasoline prices corresponded with a 1.5% decrease in traffic crashes per capita.” With average California gas prices now at $3.81/gallon, RRAA’s $0.19 tax raises prices by 5 percent, for a corresponding 0.75 percent decrease in crashes, or 22 deaths averted each year.
Gas taxes are good for foreign policy, too. Reducing oil demand gives less power to petrostates like US-attacking Russia and journalist-murdering Saudi Arabia.
Finally, reducing car dependence makes more room on public land for humans. Even in urban areas like San Francisco, many blocks give space to free parking, but not protected bike lanes or wider sidewalks; new housing developments carry parking requirements, taking space from housing; and neighbors block train stations and colleges from building housing instead of parking lots. Taxing gas and vehicle registrations reduces overall demand for cars and parking, which can enable us to more quickly address our poverty-inducing 4-million home shortage.
RRAA projects are valuable
Even if its $5 billion were thrown into the bay, RRAA’s taxes would be worth levying. But the money it generates funds critical infrastructure that offsets part of its costs and sets the stage for alternative transportation.
The largest single expenditure is $1.2 billion for highway maintenance and repair, helping the people it taxes. A 2015 study found that San Francisco’s poor road conditions cost drivers $500 per year in extra maintenance, compared to the national average.
Most of the remaining funding also goes to vehicle-related transportation projects, compensating for the taxes, which are already progressive by taxing more expensive registrations higher. The $100 million for biking and walking projects in a small way helps fight climate change more by making alternative transportation more compelling.
From the taxes to the projects funded, RRAA puts California on the path to a greener, safer future. Vote no on Prop 6 to keep its wheels rolling.