Top California business and government leaders warned Monday that proposed federal gas tax increases would undermine state efforts to raise more revenue for transportation and condemn motorists to a never-ending battle with congestion.
They said the proposals to use gas tax increases to help reduce the federal deficit would make any additions to the state gas tax politically unpalatable.
That would eliminate an option for eradicating a projected $3.5-billion shortage in state transportation funds and for providing more funds to improve California’s overcrowded roads and highways, they added.
“This will kill any efforts in California without question to increase the gas tax. It will kill any efforts in California to improve our roads,” said Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar).
Joined by representatives of the League of California Cities, Californians for Better Transportation and the Road Information Program, Katz and Assemblyman William Lancaster (R-Covina) predicted that the federal gas tax increase would escalate the deterioration of a highway system already inadequate for the state’s burgeoning population.
A study released by the Road Information Program, a nonprofit research organization supported by businesses involved in transportation, showed that higher federal gas taxes would prompt motorists to cut back on their driving and that the resulting drop in gasoline consumption would further reduce the revenues the state collects from its 9-cent gasoline tax.
“The gas tax has always been used to pay for roads. It is a pay-as-you-go system. . . . It is not designed to solve the ills of Washington. It is not designed to bail Congress out from having to make tough decisions on cutting programs and cutting spending,” Katz said.
An increase in the 9-cent federal gas tax is one of several alternatives being considered by the National Economic Commission, a bipartisan panel that will make recommendations for reducing the national debt. Suggested increases in the tax have ranged from a low of 10 cents a gallon to a high of $1 a gallon.
U.S. Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles), a proponent of the proposal, has argued that a gas tax increase would be a “relatively painless solution” to the federal deficit. He said it would raise more money faster than most other taxes while encouraging drivers to conserve and reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
Katz, who is urging Congress to reject any federal gas tax increase proposals, said a majority of the California congressional delegation has opposed similar increases in the past. He said U.S. Rep. Glenn Anderson (D-Long Beach) has authored a resolution prohibiting any diversion of gasoline tax revenue for non-transportation purposes.
At the state level, Katz has proposed legislation to increase the state gas tax 5 cents a gallon and adjust it for inflation every two years up to the year 2000. He estimates that the gas tax increase, coupled with a hike in truck weight fees, would generate $21.5 billion in revenue over the next decade.
Senate leaders have authored bills raising the gas tax 10 cents to generate $16 billion over the same time period.