By Ken Hambrick
Do you know how much Americans paid in taxes last year? In 2016, Americans paid roughly 20 percent more for their federal, state and local taxes than for their housing, food and clothing combined, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research organization.
With Californians being the highest taxed people in the country, the statistics are probably even further out of whack. But our politicians are not through with us yet.
Several cities raised their sales tax and, on April 1, the tax on cigarettes went up by $2 per pack. That money is supposed to go mainly to Medi-Cal, but you know how that goes with our politicians. Even if you’re not a smoker, it’s still a new tax.
Current transportation taxes, including sales tax on gasoline, are supposed to go to transportation infrastructure. Instead it goes to the general fund. Cap-and-trade money is supposed to go to environmental issues. Instead, most of it goes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s favorite, high-speed rail.
And then there’s Proposition 30, the laughably titled “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education” initiative. You know how temporary that was and it goes straight to the general fund.
Now, having frittered away the transportation taxes on other non-transportation expenditures, Brown is increasing our taxes again to raise an estimated $52 billion to fix the state’s roads through an increase in the gasoline tax along with higher car registration fees and a $100 charge on emission-free vehicles.
Effective November 1, 2017, the sales tax on gasoline will increase 12 cents a gallon -- a 43 percent increase -- and will rise automatically with inflation. On January 1, 2018, the vehicle registration fee will increase $25 for older cars and up to $175 on newer ones.
To win over environmentalists, the measure would include $7.5 billion for public transportation and $1 billion for paths for walking and bicycling. This is purely a political move, one that is certainly not necessary considering our road and highway conditions. But as with current tax revenues, more than $8 billion will be frittered away on non-essential projects.
As an East Bay Times editorial said, the most egregious part of Brown’s new taxes is,
The bill would dole out $7.5 billion for transit operations (read labor expenses) and capital over the next decade — with no meaningful cost controls.
Which, of course, prompts the question: How did a bill that was supposed to fix our crumbling roads become a slush fund for transit district operations?
Late on April 7, Brown got his victory helped by bribing several lawmakers for their votes. To get his vote, he promised “$500 million to Sen. Anthony Cannella, a Central Valley Republican, with the promise of $400 million for an ACE train extension to Merced and a new $100 million parkway” (East Bay Times). Brown’s total payoff to buy votes is more than $1 billion. While this may be legal, it’s unethical and dishonest.
Brown does the same dance each year. He introduces a budget that dramatically underfunds transportation and then holds it hostage to a tax hike. He continues to raise salaries for public employees, which also raises those pension contributions, but he won’t deal with roads and bridges without a tax. And he won’t deal with pension costs and other major problems that would free up money for roads.
A Public Policy Institute of California poll shows that a majority of Californians, including 42 percent of Democrats, oppose the taxes. A recent California Chamber of Commerce poll showed that 80 percent of voters want to see spending reforms first before new taxes.
But Brown has gotten his way; the voters won’t get to weigh in on it. His Democrat-dominated Legislature gave it to him even though the people wanted spending reforms first. Nothing new here.
This commentary was first published in the East Bay Times.