One of California’s most regressive taxes became even more regressive on Tuesday.
The jump in the gas tax — that was 12 cents a gallon — saw some Valley stations raise prices overnight by as much as 13 to 16 cents. Thank goodness we’re switching to winter blend when prices are supposed to be dropping or we’d be paying closer to $4 a gallon.
Deserved pot shots at the voodoo pricing structure of California gas made possible to a large degree by hidden green gas taxes and other questionable state dictates aside, you really have to question the gas tax.
I’m not questioning whether road repairs are needed or if the state did a Herculean job of not doing its job. The answer is “yes” on both accounts. It makes no sense not to move forward because we still have to fix the roads and past sins have to be addressed.
What’s wrong is how those who are occupying the majority of the 120 seats in California’s chambers of political horrors — the state legislature — went about putting a solution in place.
The two-phased tax and fee structure that is expected to generate $52.4 billion over the next decade favors the wealthy over the poor.
Based on gas mileage per gallon of gas, older cars are less fuel efficient than newer cars. Farm laborers and lower wage workers tend to drive older cars with less fuel economy. That means for every mile they drive on state highways they are paying proportionally more for wear and tear to highways, freeways, and bridges than the driver of a newer car.
The argument that the newer cars pollute less had nothing to do with it. The gas tax hike was sold as a road repair revenue generator and not to clean the air.
So someone driving a 1990 Chevy Suburban that gets an EPA rated 17 miles per gallon for highway use is paying over 30 percent more at the pump per mile driven for gas taxes for road work than someone driving a 2017 Chevy Suburban that gets an EPA rated 23 miles per gallon for highway use.
But wait, you say, the legislature also imposed a “transportation improvement fee” on DMV registration that starts in 2018 that works in tandem with the gas hike to generate money for road repairs. The ranges from $25 for an old clunker economy car to $175 for a luxury ride. The state says the average fee will be about $50.
While the sliding fee is based on the value of the vehicle which means the newer they are the more value they have and are likely to enjoy better gas mileage, it isn’t precise.
The real injustice is the fee being charged to zero-emission vehicles, which is $100 a year.
That means a Tesla or Volt driver is only paying a partial fee for road work meaning they aren’t coming anywhere close to paying their fair share. They shouldn’t get a partial pass because they don’t pollute, assuming the juice powering their vehicles came from was a generator powered by water, the sun, or wind and not a carbon-based fuel.
But here’s the rub. The gas tax and transportations improvement fee are being levied on users for road repairs caused by wear and tear. Again, it has nothing to do with air quality.
The curb weight of a Tesla S is 4,667 pounds. Compare that to the competition in terms of size and appointments such as the BMW 5 Series at 3,814 pounds and the Audi A6 at 3,803 pounds. That means a Tesla S owner is pounding asphalt harder per mile than the BMW and Audi that presumably not only will be paying a $175 annual fee compared to the $100 for the Tesla but will be paying gas taxes for road work and the Tesla won’t.
For how infatuated politicians — including the governor — say they are with tech and cutting edge thinking, they manage to come up with some pretty backwards taxing solutions.
Tesla and other vehicles that are eligible for $7,500 in tax credits for using the latest automotive technology to reduce greenhouse gases are the perfect candidates for GPS devices that record miles driven and transmits the data once a year to the DMV for a road maintenance fee.
It should be a requirement that in order to receive the $7,500 in tax credits an electric car buyer has to participate in the GPS-based system to replace lost gas tax revenue for road repair via a fee per mile driven based on the combined EPA mileage that a comparable gas powered vehicle would be paying at the pump.
So if a BW5 Series driving 1,000 miles a month pays $20 in gas tax or 2 cents a mile, the Tesla S would be assessed a 2 cent per mile drive fee by the DMV based on data recorded by an onboard GPS.
If electric auto buyers balk at the GPS and still want to take a $7,500 tax credit, they would be charged a $250 annual transportation improvement fee instead.
Existing electric car owners should also be charged $250 a year for their transportation improvement fee rather than $100. If they only want to pay the $100 fee, they can install a GPS monitoring system on their own after market. The state could even give them a tax credit up to the actual cost of the installation of the GPS device with payment coming from the gas tax fund.