Transportation Investment Fund
Three years ago the voters of California passed Proposition 42, providing that the State sales tax on gasoline be transferred to the Transportation Investment Fund (TIF). The TIF transfer is estimated to be $1.310 billion in 2005-06. Sounds simple and straight forward, right? Oh, don’t forget that little statement in Prop 42 that reads, “provision allowing suspension of the transfer, in whole or in part, in the event that the transfer would result in a significant negative fiscal impact on the range of functions of government-funded by the General Fund.”
For the last three years Proposition 42 transfer was partially suspended in 2003-04 ($868 million), fully suspended in 2004-05 (estimated $1.243 billion), and the 2005-06 Governors Budget proposes a full suspension in 2005-06 (estimated $1.310 billion). This means, that for the entirety of the proposal that the voters approved, the transportation fund has gone to balance the budget, not fund TIF.
The Administration’s current Budget Control proposal (ACA 4X) would also permit a suspension in 2006-07 (estimated $1.383 billion) but would eliminate the constitutional provision permitting a suspension beginning in 2007-08. Furthermore, the Administration’s proposal would provide for the repayment of all Proposition 42 suspensions in even annual increments by 2021-22.
Assemblyman Rick Keene (R-Chico) introduced a constitutional amendment on behalf of the Governor to protect Proposition 42 revenues beginning in 2007 and Assemblyman George Plescia (R-La Jolla) introduced a similar measure that eliminates the ability of the Legislature or Governor to suspend Proposition 42 following voter approval of a constitutional amendment. What they’re really saying is, the people of California voted for a gas tax thinking this money would be spent on road maintenance and construction and mass transit. This has never happened and now they are trying to ensure that the people’s money is going where they voted it to go.
The Administration has not been able to balance the budget for three years without taking money from places it wasn’t originally meant to go, but soon they will stop taking money earmarked for TIF, and they are going to repay what they took. Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez has another proposal.
On April 21, 2005, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-) announced the details of a transportation proposal from the Assembly Democrats.
The plan, according to Vincent Duffy, Press Secretary for Fabian Núñez, is a combination of “revenue-neutral tax” shifts and bond proposals that would generate new revenues for transportation. The Speakers plan would eliminate the sales tax on gasoline, immediately reducing the pump price of gas by about 11 cents per gallon, and replace those revenues with a 0.25-cent increase in the general state sales tax. That’s right, instead of having the people that use the roads the most pay for the repairs and construction of the roads, Núñez is proposing that everyone pay for it.
For instance, my neighbors Barbara and Louie are both 85 years old. They are on a fixed income. Their house is paid for and they sit on that equity in case of a major catastrophe. They watch their expenses since their income doesn’t go up at the rate the market does. They don’t drive unless it is 5 miles into town to buy food or other necessities. They may fill their tank up twice a month. Another 1/4 cent on sales taxes would affect them, and that age sector, heavily. It would mean they would have to tighten their belt further, for the times that their children come home and they buy extra food to entertain them.
Duffy and Núñez don’t see it that way. Duffy explains, “It is a holistic approach. People who get the mail or buy goods have to have them delivered to their homes. Wouldnt you rather pay $2 less on gas and .11 cents more on a pair of shoes?
Sheri Krueger, a resident of South Auburn, doesn’t agree with Duffy’s approach, “Politicians ask me to get involved and look at the issues. I do that, I approved Prop. 42 because I use the roads and I want them maintained. I don’t mind paying my fair share. If they (politicians) wonder why they aren’t trusted it is because they are not honest about what they do with my money.
It is exasperating when I find out that the money they are taking from me is not being appropriated to the fund I approved the expenditure for.”What about the claim by Núñez office that the state would decrease it’s emissions by 500 tons if their bill passed? Just because mass transit is built does not mean it is used. The largest increase in mass transit usage has been seen when the price of gas goes up. The lowest level is when the gas price goes down. The reason Núñez wants to lower the price of gas is political pandering.
The reason politicians won’t raise the price of gas – which would lower the usage which would lower carbon dioxide emissions – is because it would be political suicide. There is no politician that has the guts to put forth a bill that raises the price of gas. Instead, they call for advanced technology on automobiles, which raises the price of automobiles making it more expensive to purchase a newer, lower-emission vehicle.
Politicians’ second phase would place a $10 billion transportation bond on the 2006 ballot to be paid for by a 4-cent increase in the gas tax between 2006 and 2015. The bond revenues would be used to pay back existing transportation loans to the General Fund, and other projects including paying for a portion of the costs of rebuilding the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The gas tax would also be indexed, or adjusted, for inflation every five years beginning in 2010 to compensate for the loss in purchasing power.
There’s another way to fund Prop. 42, known to some as the HOT lane, to others as the Lexus Lane. Tolls on a typical day run $2 or $3 per vehicle. People go to great lengths not to sit in traffic and pay $3 just to get over a bridge. The only way to do this is to use the high-occupancy lane (HOV), known as the carpool lane. If you are a solo driver you have to sit in traffic and pay the $3, until now.
Since the inception of the carpool lane, we’ve heard of stories of people propping dummies up to make the two-person minimum, a woman that was pregnant and claimed the child in her womb as the second person. Slugging became popular; people waiting in designated areas to catch a ride with a driver that wanted to meet the minimum. The driver and passenger got a free ride over the bridge without waiting in line.
Now, you don’t have to pick up strangers to go through the carpool lane. For those who want to pay a little more through a Fastrack transponder card (an electronic tag mounted on the vehicle’s windshield), you can pay more and go through the carpool lane as a solo driver. The carpool lane can be accessed, by a solo driver, for a fee varying from $.75-$10 (called congestion pricing), during rush hour. It was found that people would use these lanes around 2 a.m., paying for them even though there was no congestion in the other lanes. When asked why they explained that they felt safer because there were cameras on the HOT lanes, so if they broke down there would be a better chance of someone noticing them faster.
According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), HOT lanes expand mobility options in congested urban areas by providing an opportunity for reliable travel times for HOT lane users and generates a new source of revenue that can be used to pay for transportation improvements, including enhanced transit service.
Implementation of the HOT network lane would begin within the next five to 10 years; new federal and state legislation would be required. State legislation enacted in 2004 allows HOT lane demonstration projects to be constructed on Interstate 680 over the Sunol Grade and in two corridors (to be determined) in Santa Clara County. There is already a HOT lane on State Route 91 in Orange County and on Interstate 15 in San Diego.
Creating revenue for all the maintenance and new construction calls for creative ideas, but none of these ideas work if the monies gathered are not used for what they were appropriated to fix.