Orange County Register: Promises made on the gas tax increase must be promises kept

By Senator Patricia Bates
Monday, October 28, 2019

Published by the Orange County Register on October 25, 2019.

The vitriolic political culture today has brought our nation to the brink.

Not since the civil rights movement and anger over the Vietnam War have we experienced such a divided nation. It is during this time that elected leaders must focus on finding common ground and work to restore trust in one another. Specifically, we must demonstrate trust by first respecting the wishes of the voters and then keeping our promises to them.

It is for this reason, primarily, that the recent actions by Gov. Gavin Newsom to shift promised gas tax dollars away from much-needed road and highway repairs, construction and expansion is so disappointing.

This latest broken promise makes real the Danish adage: “Eggs and oaths are easily broken.” For politicians to lead and restore trust, it is imperative that they keep their word. Despite repeated promises by California’s ruling party that the money from the gas tax increase would be used exclusively on state roads and highways, the governor is about to shift some transportation dollars away from roads and towards bike lanes and rail lines.

In 2017, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, which its supporters called the “Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.” Notice that the title does not reference trains or bike lanes.

Senate Bill 1 placed an additional 12 cents per gallon tax on gasoline, 20 cents per gallon tax on diesel fuel and massively increased the vehicle registration fee. I and many other opponents of SB1 warned that history had demonstrated repeatedly that politicians could not be trusted to guarantee those dollars would be used exclusively on roads and highways, but Gov. Jerry Brown and his allies muscled the measure through the state Legislature anyway.

Upon passage of SB1, as gas prices rose and residents’ ire grew, the SB1 tax increase supporters scurried to put Proposition 69 on the June 2018 ballot to reassure voters that the new ballot measure would “guarantee” that neither the state, the governor, nor the Legislature would be allowed to shift those tax dollars for other purposes. Gas tax supporters promised Californians yet again that the new gas tax dollars would only go to fixing our roads.

Then, a group of Californians seeking to repeal the gas tax increase put Proposition 6 on the November ballot last year. Gov. Brown and his allies warned that if the ballot measure passed, all the tax dollars dedicated to fixing “roads, bridges and infrastructure” would be eliminated, and they promised voters yet again that gas tax funds would only be used for fixing our roads.

In fact, the official Prop. 6 opposition ballot arguments to save the gas tax read: “voters overwhelmingly passed Prop. 69 … preventing Sacramento politicians from raiding transportation funds and ensuring these funds are only used for transportation improvements. We should not eliminate transportation revenues that are accountable to taxpayers, can’t be diverted, and that voters overwhelmingly dedicated to fixing our roads.”

The campaign to fight the repeal of the gas tax increase called itself “No On Prop. 6 — Stop The Attack on Bridge & Road Safety.” As with SB1, there is no mention of trains or bike lanes.

Now, less than two years after that expensive and deceptive campaign, Newsom has signed an executive order directing some money intended for road repairs to be diverted and spent on a Climate Change Scoping Plan. The plan will focus on “encouraging” Californians to give up cars.

This is why there is very little faith or trust in elected representatives. The governor’s actions make the Danish proverb ring true. Unfortunately, eggs, oaths and promises are all equally easily broken.

Californians deserve better from their elected leaders. Promises made on the gas tax increase must be promises kept.