In his 1954 State of the Union address, President Dwight Eisenhower noted the “vital interest of every citizen in a safe and adequate highway system.”
Two years later, he signed the Federal Highway Act, earmarking taxes on fuel for the nation’s transportation system. Subsequent presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, signed renewals that raised fuel taxes to expand and maintain highways, bridges and other infrastructure.
States, including California, did the same, enacting fuel taxes for their roads and highways.
These taxes — user fees, really — are seldom popular, but they are equitable. People who use roads and highways pay for their upkeep.
Here in California, no one can credibly argue that the transportation network meets the needs of nearly 40 million residents. Indeed, we hear more complaints about traffic and potholes than practically anything else.
Yet voters are being asked to cancel more than $50 billion in transportation improvements. That’s preposterous.
But that’s Proposition 6 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Proposition 6, which is championed by Southern California radio talk-show provocateurs — and Republican politicians, who should know better — would rescind fuel tax increases and repeal a new fee paid by owners of electric cars, who don’t otherwise contribute to road maintenance.
The SB 1 taxes took effect in 2017, and they’re already pumping more than $5 billion a year into roads and transit.
More than $170 million is earmarked for major projects in the North Bay, including widening Highway 101, easing congestion on Highway 37 and extending SMART north to at least Windsor. In addition, $19 million a year is being distributed to Sonoma County and local cities for road repairs.
Without the SB 1 money, all that work will be delayed indefinitely.
There simply isn’t another source of revenue on the horizon.
President Donald Trump has talked about a major investment in highways and infrastructure. But the plan he delivered to Congress last year required states and communities to pony up most of the money. As for Washington’s share, the president suggested — wait for it — raising the federal gas tax by 25 cents a gallon.
Twenty-seven states, including solidly red Wyoming, Oklahoma, Georgia and Idaho, have raised gas taxes since 2013 by as much as 22 cents a gallon.
SB 1 raised California’s gas tax 12 cents a gallon.
Gas prices go up that much and more on a regular basis. The difference with SB 1 is the money is going to repave roads, repair bridges and improve transit.
California’s road improvement plan is backed by business groups, organized labor, environmental groups and first responders. They understand that decent roads and transit are needed to support the world’s fifth-largest economy, to control greenhouse gas emissions and to move firefighters their equipment to hot spots quickly and safely.
The last time California raised gas taxes was 1990, an increase endorsed by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian and approved by voters.
This time, GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox and most of the GOP congressional delegation are campaigning for Proposition 6. Why? They say legislators have raided highway funds for other purposes in the past, but voters in June passed a constitutional amendment requiring SB 1 money — and all other fuel taxes — to be spent on transportation.