Coastal Voices: Correction: ‘Good news out of Sacramento’

Written by Eli Naffah May 28, 2014 05:02 pm

My good friend Bob Berkowitz must have gotten a dose of bad data in his “Did You Know?” column (“Good news, bad news out of Sacramento,” May 20).

He referred to legislation sponsored by State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, whom I happen to know from when I worked in Contra Costa County. DeSaulnier was a county supervisor at the time, and although we disagreed on some issues, I still thought he was a reasonable person. That is why I was so surprised when Bob addressed an outrageous bill and said it was by DeSaulnier. I then did some research and found that Senate Bill 1077 was very different than what was described by Bob, and the bill was in fact the victim of mischaracterization in the media.

Bob said: “… so you would think that there would not be a push to add more taxes this coming year. Well, you would be wrong. A bill moving through the Legislature by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, a Democrat from Concord, would add 5 cents for every mile driven by your car and would raise $110.3 billion for six Southern California counties. The bill would take the place of the state gas tax of 52.9 cents per gallon.”

The exact text of SB 1077 states: “The Transportation Agency shall develop, by Jan. 1, 2016, a pilot program designed to explore various methods for using a mileage-based fee (MBF) to replace the state’s existing fuel excise tax. … The agency shall prepare and submit a report of its findings to … the Legislature no later than June 30, 2017.”

In a statement on May 7, Sen. DeSaulnier states: “SB 1077 authorizes the California Transportation Agency to merely conduct a voluntary pilot program to study the feasibility of using a mileage-based fee to replace the existing gas tax. The program would be completely voluntary — no one would be forced to participate. The bill does not allow the California Transportation Agency to even collect fees from volunteers participating in the study. The bill asks the California Transportation Agency to conduct what amounts to a hypothetical dry run of a mileage-based fee and report its findings to the Legislature. The gas tax is ultimately an unsustainable way to fund adequate maintenance of our roads. We will need to examine several alternatives to the gas tax. SB 1077 allows us to study one of those alternatives.”

Sen. DeSaulnier’s website, under Frequently Asked Questions: SB 1077, states: “This bill does not: have anything to do with raising taxes on anyone. … Additionally, the bill does not specify an amount of money to be charged for any potential mileage-based fee. Media reports suggesting that the state will begin implementing a mileage-based fee of $0.05 per mile are erroneous.”

The facts are:

• The bill is not a tax.

• It is a pilot program.

• It does not take effect this year.

• It is a voluntary study.

• It addresses an alternative to the existing gas tax.

• The 5 cents per mile fee is erroneous.

In addition, I have no idea from where Bob’s “would raise $110.3 billion for six Southern California counties” comment came. The bill addresses a statewide mileage-based fee to replace the state’s existing fuel excise tax (gas tax). It makes no sense to have the money going to certain counties, especially in Southern California since DeSaulnier represents Bay Area counties east of San Francisco.

Bob is right; the bill would take the place of the state gas tax. The tax of 52.9 cents per gallon is actually 39.9 cents state and the rest federal. DeSaulnier says that since the gas tax is an unsustainable funding method, “we need to ensure that we can continue adequate maintenance of our roads.” The problem is that although “fuel efficient vehicles and electric cars” save the owners money to operate, they cost the state money because less revenue is coming in from gas taxes to maintain roads and bridges. Somehow, all those that use roads must contribute to the cost of maintaining them. That is the whole purpose behind SB 1077.

Eli Naffah is a Crescent City resident.