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California’s Gas Tax Opponents Push A Unique Way To Pay For Road Fixes

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Chris White Tech Reporter

Backers of a campaign to eliminate California’s gas tax are now pushing an initiative directing Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to halt the state’s high-speed rail project and use any unspent funds on road improvements.

The new ballot initiative would require any funds not needed for repaying rail bonds instead go to other transportation work. Supporters say the measure staves off criticism that eliminating the state’s recent pricey gas tax makes it more difficult to make infrastructure improvements.

It’s aimed at “fixing California’s roads without raising taxes on struggling working families of our state — and we’re proving how it can be done before voters are asked to vote ‘yes’ on Prop. 6, the gas-tax repeal initiative,” Carl DeMaio, the head of a push to repeal the tax, said in a statement Monday night. The new measure will be filed on Tuesday.

DeMaio is also leading a statewide push against Brown’s gas tax, which imposes a 12 cents per gallon (cpg) hike on citizens and raising the tax on diesel fuel by 20 cpg. It also implements an additional charge to annual vehicle license fees ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the car’s value.

Democrats in the state legislature passed the measure in April of 2017 along party lines. Only one Republican — state Sen. Anthony Cannella — voted in favor of the measure after receiving $500 million in kickbacks for a commuter rail extension in his district.

Brown, a Democrat whose leaving office in November, eventually signed off on the tax after criticizing Republicans for opposing it. Democrats have faced widespread condemnation for passing the measure. (RELATED: Governor Brown’s Move To Hike California’s Gas Taxes Could Doom Dems As Elections Approach)

Nearly 58 percent of voters oppose the tax increase, including 39 percent who say they strongly reject the legislation, according to a survey UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies conducted shortly after the measure was passed. Only 35 percent of voters surveyed favor the law.

The high-speed train’s cancellation was included to address concerns that gas-tax money might be used to buttress a funding shortfall on the rail project, something supporters of the tax call ridiculous. The price tag for the bullet train is reaching eye-popping dimensions.

The current budget for the project is $77 billion, an increase from the original estimate of $33 billion when the voters approved a bond for the work in 2008. The full system won’t start operating until 2033. Experts, meanwhile, have criticized similar high-speed rail projects in the past.

“The costs of building such projects usually vastly outweigh the benefits,” Baruch Feigenbaum, assistant director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, told Reason Magazine in 2017. Analysts argue supporters use accounting tricks like leaving out construction costs and indirect subsidies to justify claims that such projects are profitable. If you tabulate the full costs, only two systems in the world operate at a profit, and one breaks even.

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