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How politicians are taking you for a ride

POSTED January 17, 2014 8:37 p.m.

How much does a gallon of gas cost in taxes? Try 61.2 cents.
That’s how much each $3.57 gallon of gas I pumped Saturday at the Chevron station was actually going for in taxes and not for the gas itself.
The “true” non-taxed price of gas at the pump was $2.98. That’s 16.5 cents on each dollar you pay for gas is actually sales, federal excise and state gasoline taxes.
This isn’t exactly highway robbery, right? After all the taxes you pay on fuel go to roads and you’re just paying your fair share as a motorist, correct?
Guess again.
As a motorist in California you are paying more than your fair share of taxes to keep roads and bridges maintained. That’s because riders of public transit don’t pay a penny toward road maintenance. In fact, their bus/train fares are subsidized by you every time the gas pump siphons money out of your pocket.
Someone who rides public transit in California is typically paying only 28 percent of the cost of providing them the ride. They are taxed nothing toward ongoing road maintenance costs.
Motorists, according to various studies, pay roughly 51 percent of what it costs to maintain a state’s road and related infrastructure. Bonds and other sources make up the difference. Bus riders pay zilch.
It gets worse. Motorists pay 100 percent of the cost to own and operate the vehicle they drive to work. Transit riders pay just 28 percent of the actual cost for their ride.
We need taxes to pay for roads and such. But that’s not the point. At least not to some bozos in the California Legislature who are hell bent to bring “equity” to electrical prices through the California Public Utilities Commission. They don’t like the idea that one group of power users may be subsidizing others especially at peak use times typically that fall later in the day. The end result would be power users that rely on air conditioning a lot in places such as the Central Valley will pay as much as 16 percent more each month and massive users such as high tech firms that consume electricity the way most people breath will pay less.
What’s fair is fair, right?
Then if Valley residents are going to end up paying a larger bill for electricity than San Franciscans so that we are all treated “equally” then why do we still have to continue subsidizing San Franciscans when it comes to getting  to and from work?
There are a lot of people that make more than the Valley median household income that take public transit each day throughout the Bay Area. That means folks making six figures are getting a free ride on direct taxes to maintain the roads the buses they ride on use. Motorists living in the Valley are also helping subsidize 72 percent of the cost of their actual fare.
No one with the means to move bills through the California Legislature seems worried about that. Gee, could it have anything to do with the fact most public transportation of any consequence is concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles Basin and San Diego?
Sure, there is public transit in the Central Valley, but it is used significantly less due to frequency and limited routes and almost everyone that rides it is extremely low income as opposed to places like San Francisco.
The poor have to get to work, school, shop, and reach medical appointments too. It is understandable that they are subsidized. The problem is a lot of the same poor in the Valley can’t access public transportation as they have to use vehicles. The Valley working poor need a car in most cases to reach available jobs that are typically out of town. So they are actually helping subsidize not just their counterparts economically in San Francisco but also those pulling down six figures each year. Where is the equity in that?
If the California Legislature is so determined to eliminate “subsidies” when it comes to things the government messes with, whether it's public roads or regulating electricity, then let’s go all the way.
If Valley residents are no longer going to have electrical bills “subsidized” by San Franciscans who tend not to have air conditioning then it is only fair that San Franciscans that use public transit no longer have their ride subsidized by those in the Valley who can’t use public transit to get around.
The proposed “non-subsidized” electrical rate structure proposed by the state may cost a typical Valley consumer $134 more a year in payments to PG&E.
That would be chump change compared to what Valley residents are taxed at the pump —especially those who commute over the Altamont Pass — to subsidize transit riders. If you’re pumping 240 gallons a month then the transit portion of the taxes you pay at the pump comes to about $202 a year.
Make both electricity costs and gas taxes fair and San Franciscans could pay more and we could pay less.
But in reality the electricity pricing reform isn’t about Valley residents or San Francisans. It is about the big corporations that underwrite political campaigns. They want to pay no more than actual costs — if that — for their own business and no impact their employees may have.
Regional warfare, which the CPUC study on electrical rates proposes, is nothing more than a cover to benefit the big energy hogs such as Facebook, Google, and Chevron that have the ears of our elected leaders.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

 

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