Fong, Brown spar over tax hike

Senate, Assembly support still pending at press time

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Amid concerns that taxes and regulations are driving revenue-generating businesses out of California and making the state unaffordable for the lowest-income earners, conflicting solutions for addressing the state’s crumbling infrastructure have emerged in a watershed issue between warring political ideologies.

Gov. Jerry Brown answered concerns about crumbling roads and collapsing bridges by proposing a plan that would increase gas tax, diesel tax and vehicle license fees by more than $5.2 billion each year.

With a Democratic supermajority in both the state’s Senate and its Assembly, a vote along party lines would give Brown the support he needs to enact the plan.

Leading the opposition against the tax hike is Kern County’s own Assemblyman Vince Fong, who in just a few short months has secured positions as the Republican whip and Transportation Committee vice chair while making headlines across the state for his continuing call to prioritize existing revenues on infrastructure projects.

Brown proposes a 12-cent increase in the gasoline excise tax, a 20-cent increase in the diesel excise tax, a 4-percent diesel sales-tax increase, a transportation improvement fee increase of up to $175 per vehicle and a $100-per-year zero-emission vehicle fee starting in 2020.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office reported last week that, in addition to the cost increase to consumers through Brown’s initiative, the potential impact of cap and trade could drive up gas prices by an additional 63 cents per gallon by 2021.

“When considering and evaluating the transportation funding package, we cannot look at gas taxes in a vacuum,” said Fong. “California continues to become more unaffordable because of decisions made in Sacramento, and hardworking Californians are bearing the burden.”

He also pointed out that billions set aside for transportation have been funneled into the state’s general fund over the years, while infrastructure has been neglected in favor of other programs.

“When the cost of fuel increases, the cost of food, services and products will also increase. Middle- and working-class families are already struggling to afford to live in California, so a regressive gas tax combined with an additional spike to fuel prices would only exacerbate the costs of living and working in our state. These are very real potential consequences, and I urge my colleagues to honestly consider all these high-cost burdens they will be imposing on their constituents.

During committee testimony earlier this week, Fong clashed with Brown, who said that Republicans would be voting against a cap-and-trade extension anyway.

State Sen. Jean Fuller, in her last week as Republican leader, joined Fong in opposing the governor’s plan.

“Residents living in the Golden State already pay some of the highest gas taxes in the country, yet our roads are sorely neglected and overrun by potholes,” she said. “This new proposal by the majority party will further hurt our pocketbooks, Worse, it does not even ensure that the new taxes and fees will really go to repairing our roads, highways and bridges.

“This is the wrong approach that would hurt ordinary Californians.” She further commended Fong for his responsible solution.

At press time, neither house had voted on Brown’s plan. Democrats in either the upper or lower house of the legislature would have to shift their support across the aisle in order to block the initiative.

Meanwhile, a petition generated by Fong had been shared thousands of times in its first week, garnering an untold number of signatures. Updates will be reported as they become available.

Story First Published: 2017-04-07