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PD Endorsement Proposition 30: Say no to Lyft-funded tax rebate plan

Lyft and its drivers aren’t guaranteed rebates, but Proposition 30 is a golden opportunity to shift some of the cost to taxpayers.|

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

Follow the money. That line, which was never actually spoken by Mark Felt, Watergate’s infamous “Deep Throat,” still is pretty good advice for anyone trying to figure out who stands to gain from a California ballot initiative.

In the case of Proposition 30 on the Nov. 8 ballot, the primary benefactor is Lyft. The ride-sharing app has kicked in about $35 million so far for the campaign to raise income taxes on wealthy Californians.

Does Lyft have something to gain for its beneficence? In a word, yes.

While a fifth of the money is set aside for clean air and fire prevention programs, 80% is earmarked for vehicle charging stations and rebates for buyers of electric vehicles, including fleet purchases by businesses and public agencies.

And the clock is ticking for Lyft to phase out gas-powered cars.

Under state clean air regulations, ride-sharing companies must use zero-emission vehicles for 90% of the miles their drivers travel by 2030.

Lyft and its drivers aren’t guaranteed rebates, but Proposition 30 is a golden opportunity to shift some of the cost to taxpayers.

Expect campaign ads to emphasize clean air and fire prevention, but the bulk of the tax money — up to $4 billion a year — would be spent elsewhere.

Make no mistake, we see the damage already being caused by climate change. We must phase out fossil fuels to prevent a global calamity. Indeed, the state Air Resources Board recently voted to end sale of new gas-powered cars after 2035. The ride-sharing companies are under a tighter deadline because they emit more emissions per passenger trip than other passenger vehicles.

Daniel Ives, a Wall Street analyst who tracks ride-sharing companies, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Lyft “faces a very steep uphill battle” to meet the deadline. Tapping the state treasury for a bailout isn’t the answer.

Opposition to Lyft’s proposal spans the political spectrum from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Teachers Association to the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Republican Party. You don’t see that quartet on the same side of an issue very often.

California spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on zero-emission vehicles programs, according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst, and state lawmakers recently committed to spending about $10 billion over five years.

Supporters of Proposition 30, including the Santa Rosa-based Climate Center, say the state needs to spend more and over a longer period to prevent the worst effects of climate change. They’re probably right, but we aren’t convinced Proposition 30 is the best approach.

Here’s another reason to oppose Proposition 30. California already has the highest marginal income tax rate in the country. The top tax bracket is 12.3% for taxable incomes above $625,000 for single people and $1.25 million, plus a 1% surtax on incomes above $1 million for mental health programs.

Proposition 30 would raise the top rate to 15.05% for individuals and couples earning more than $2 million a year. There’s nothing wrong with progressive taxation, but California is running surpluses of more than $100 billion a year with its present tax rates, and the state has been required by a constitutional spending limit to rebate money two years in a row.

Newsom bluntly described Proposition 30 as a “cynical scheme” and “fiscally irresponsible.” We agree. The Press Democrat recommends a no vote.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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