Soapbox

The real cost of California’s transportation deal – $1 billion in pork, more in taxes and fees

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, left, congratulates state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, after Beall’s transportation measure was approved by the Senate on April 6. The bill, SB 1, would increase California’s gas and vehicle taxes by $5 billion a year to pay for major road repairs.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, left, congratulates state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, after Beall’s transportation measure was approved by the Senate on April 6. The bill, SB 1, would increase California’s gas and vehicle taxes by $5 billion a year to pay for major road repairs. The Associated Press

What happened on the floor of the Assembly late into the night recently would have been laughable if it wasn’t so disgusting. Capitol Democrats screamed, twisted arms and promised giveaways in their effort to find votes for the largest gas tax increase in state history.

When the dust settled, the bill was on its way to the governor, Californians were facing $52 billion in new taxes and fees, and a few lucky lawmakers walked away with nearly $1 billion in pork.

Sacramento special interests rejoiced, but ordinary Californians have little to be happy about.

After ignoring our roads for decades, Democrats decided that the only solution was to rush a huge tax increase through the legislative process in just six days. This deal was negotiated behind closed doors with lobbyists and moneyed interests, but the ordinary people of California get little in return. In fact, hidden in the plan is a caveat that less than 5 percent of the money collected from drivers can go toward traffic relief.

Yes, you heard that right. Those of you stuck in traffic are still going to sit there on your daily commute and pay more to fill up your tanks.

Meanwhile, almost a third of the tax money collected will go toward projects that have nothing to do with roads. A huge chunk of your gas taxes and vehicle registration fees will go toward parks, boats and even the high-speed rail.

While ordinary Californians were left out of the dealings, the special interests made sure they got theirs. Together they teamed up with the governor and hailed their “deal” in paid advertisements up and down the state. This flood of faux grass-roots support drowned out the pleas of ordinary citizens who would pay for this plan out of their already tight budgets. So much for Democrats being the party of working people.

As the deadline loomed, the deal was still a handful of votes short. A few Democrats were holding out, either out of concern for their constituents or an instinct for self-preservation ahead of the next election. At that point, supporters gave up all pretense of an honest process and started looking for legislators to squeeze or buy.

When all was said and done, it took supporters nearly $1 billion in pork to buy the lawmakers they needed. That sounds like a lot, but when taxpayers are footing the bill, that money flows easily.

During the debate that night, one of my colleagues scolded opponents of the deal, saying that we needed to act like “grown folks” and get in line. The arrogance of that statement was astonishing, especially when you consider the behavior exhibited by the Democrats on Thursday night.

After a tense vote that was held open for 10 minutes as Democratic leadership threatened and cajoled their undecided members, the deal finally passed and went to the governor. The largest gas tax increase in state history was on its way to becoming law. It was an embarrassing end to an embarrassing process, but for Sacramento elites, that’s how things work, and forget the will of the people. The question for California voters is: How is that working for you?

James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, represents Assembly District 3. He can be contacted at james.gallagher@asm.ca.gov.

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