Assemblyman Fears Gas Tax Will Do Lasting Damage to California Economy



VICTORVILLE — Jay Obernolte doesn’t think California has an issue collecting taxes, it’s how that money gets used once it’s in lawmaker’s hands that’s the cause for concern.

Speaking to the Victorville Rotary Club on Tuesday, the 33rd District Assemblyman spent most of his time addressing the recently passed SB 1 that will raise gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to pay for major road repairs throughout the state.

“It’s not a collection problem, it’s a spending problem,” Obernolte, R-Hesperia, said. “The truth is that we at the state level are diverting a lot of the money that we collect already in road taxes to other uses.”

Pointing to the diversion of funds raised at vehicle weigh stations — approximately $1.1 billion annually — to the General Fund as just one example, Obernolte said he couldn’t vote to increase the gas tax “unless I can honestly tell (my constituents) that we are wisely and appropriately spending the money that we are already collecting from them in the name of transportation.”

The bill, which was championed by Gov. Jerry Brown and top Democratic lawmakers, is projected to raise $52.4 billion over 10 years and help address a $59 billion backlog in deferred maintenance on state highways and $78 billion on local streets and roads, according to the Associated Press.

SB 1 raises the base excise tax on gas by 12 cents a gallon, as well as an approximate 7.5-cent increase to the price-based excise tax, culminating in a nearly 20-cent increase by the time both increases take place, according to Obernolte’s office.

In addition, diesel taxes are expected to rise from 16 cents per gallon to 36 cents per gallon, and a new annual fee ranging from $25 to $175 will be added to the vehicle registration fee.

Heavily opposed by Republicans — all but one voted against it, along with two Democratic lawmakers — the bill barely mustered the two-thirds support supermajority required to raise taxes.

Obernolte, who felt that the state could fund road repairs with existing funds and even proposed a bill that he said would have raised $500 billion without raising taxes, worries its passage could have long-term effects.

“I fear that we have done real lasting damage to our economy,” Obernolte, R-Hesperia, said. “We have the highest poverty rate of any state in the nation right now if you use the supplemental poverty index from the U.S. Census Bureau and the reason to poverty rate is so high is the cost of living is so high.

“The cost of housing, the cost of gas, the cost of energy, all of those things are more expensive than in neighboring states. So when we do something that raises the cost of living here even more, we unavoidably are driving more people into poverty, in particularly so in regions likes ours where people are forced to commute to get access to big paying jobs.”

Pointing to a recent study that showed that “39 percent of people in the Victor Valley have to commute to put food on the tables for their families,” Obernolte blasted the tax hike for disproportionately impacting “people in communities likes ours.”

“That’s what’s particularly distressing about this because we’re essentially balancing our roads budget on the backs of the families that can afford it the least,” Obernolte said.

Kevin Trudgeon may be reached at 760-955-5358 or