PERSPECTIVE--The first thought that popped into my mind when Governor Brown proposed his gas tax hike was former mayor Villaraigosa’s infamous trash collection fee increase.
You may recall, the fee was hyped as a means to hire 1,000 new LAPD officers.
Less than half that number were hired; the rest of the funds went to overhead,
As I told NPR’s Patt Morrison and the LA Weekly in interviews back in 2008, controls and reporting are insufficient to assure the proper allocation of taxes and fees.
This is especially true with state tax revenues, which are allocated to various funds, including those at the local level. At every layer, allocations are made for multiple purposes. Such is the case with gasoline taxes. They are also used to fund mass transit and other transportation projects unrelated to automobiles. Gasoline excise tax revenue is also used to pay the debt service on highway bonds (Brown’s proposal is an excise tax), effectively relieving the general fund of the obligation.
This all makes for quite a trail to follow. Few individuals have the time or wherewithal to do so.
Determining how much of gas taxes actually improve roads is almost a fool’s errand. Politicians know this and use it to their advantage. Lack of accountability gives them all the cover they need to divert funds.
This much is known: Brown’s plan would increase taxes by $52 billion; $7.5 billion would go to public transportation and another $1 billion for bike lanes and walkways, not exactly what you would call road and bridge improvements.
It also includes a constitutional amendment requiring spending to be limited to transportation projects. And Villaraigosa’s trash fee was supposed to cover hiring officers.
You can be assured that new definitions of transportation will abound if the proposal is passed. If it fails – and it could – don’t be surprised if it is resurrected.
Here’s an idea: instead of the tax increase, let’s just pass a constitutional amendment requiring all existing gas tax revenue be spent on roads and bridges. We might then see a major decrease in the maintenance backlog.
(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)