Column: Increases in gas taxes and water rates illustrate government overreach

Cristian Rodriguez fuels his vehicle in Sacramento. Gasoline taxes rose by 12 cents per gallon Wednesday to raise money for fixing roads and highways. It is the first of several tax and fee hikes that will take effect after they were approved by the Legislature.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Did you felt the pinch at the pump as the new gas tax came into effect this month?

The 12 cent-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline is now up to 41.74 cents a gallon. But depending on where you gas up, prices vary greatly.

Apps like Gas Buddy — plug in a ZIP code and find the cheapest gas in your area — showed variations as great as $3.29 in a gallon in Corona del Mar, $3.09 in Huntington Beach and $3.45 in Irvine.

Searching for gas online before you fill up can save some money, but that still doesn’t take the sting out of why we’re paying more.

Carl DeMaio, chairman of Reform California, who I wrote about Sept. 20, continues to make headway with his statewide signature campaign to repeal the gas and vehicle taxes approved in Sacramento without voter approval.

“Our Gas Tax Repeal Initiative will overturn the gas tax, and politicians will not be able to interfere with it because it is a Constitutional amendment being placed on the November 2018 ballot,” DeMaio wrote Tuesday to supporters. “That has been the plan, and the timetable since Day One of the campaign.”

DeMaio’s signature drive begins Nov. 27, and you’ll be able to sign it at

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty tired of politicians reaching in my wallet without regard, which is why I’m not thrilled either with the recent proposal to increase water rates by the Mesa Water District Board — to the tune of 5% a year for the next five years.

That’s a 25% increase, which is outrageous considering the water board gave itself a 10% pay increase in April.

Board members went from $240 per meeting to $264. Members are limited to a maximum compensation of up to 10 meetings per month, not a bad gig for a part-time position when you consider their per diem, plus health insurance compensation.

Looking at the Mesa Water District website, I found compensation information for 2016.

Board President James Atkinson earned $25,920 in per diem pay and $16,800 for health insurance; Vice President Fred Bockmiller, $22,320 in per diems and $16,683.96 for insurance; Board member James Fisler, $28,800 in per diems and $10,074.96 for insurance; and board member Shawn Dewane, $20,160 in per diems and $16,800 for insurance.

There was no information on 2017 board member Marice DePasquale, but her predecessor Ethan Temianka received $26,400 in per diem pay and $10,074.96 in insurance benefits in 2016.

Dewane was a guest on the KOCI radio show Stu News Sunday with Tom Johnson. I’m also weekly contributor but wasn’t in the studio for the interview.

Listening at home I considered Dewane’s comments public relations spin justifying the rate increase. Dewane touted to Johnson how revenues at Mesa Water were down, as residents were pro-active in cutting water usage during the drought. Since operating costs remained the same, there’s a need now to increase rates, he said.

I find it irritatingly arrogant that instead of rewarding the public for reacting responsibly, Mesa Water would pick the public’s pockets rather than its own.

Dewane never offered a cost-cutting solution to compensate for the revenue downturn, only rate increases.

If the public’s using less water, why not look for administrative savings?

Are we to believe within this bureaucracy there’s no fat?

I’ve never met a government bureaucracy that couldn’t use to lose some weight!

How about board members start with not giving themselves a 10% increase in compensation months before asking the public for an increase?

Back in 2014 I wrote an article about how there’s no sweeter deal than getting yourself elected to a water board. I found there’s little oversight and no term limits.

Voters traditionally don’t pay attention to these elections. I was just as guilty as the next person.

But now I am, and so should you.

The next Mesa Water District Board meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday at 1965 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa. The public can — and should — weigh in on the rate increases.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at