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Why taxing gas may not be enough to fix California roads

by Take Two®

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Supporters of a plan for a $5 billion-a-year tax and fee road repair measure rallied at the Capitol, Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. The bill, SB1, supported by Calif., Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic Legislative leaders, is expected to be voted on by the California Legislature, on Thursday. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) Rich Pedroncelli/AP

This is no secret to drivers: California's roads are falling apart.

The state legislature approved SB-1, Governor Brown's proposal for raising the gas tax to try to fix them.

But a new report released today by Beacon Economics and the nonprofit group Next 10 believes that taxing gas simply will not generate enough revenue to get the job done. 

Adam Fowler is the manager of public policy research at Beacon. He spoke to Take Two's A Martinez to explain the report

On how much money the plan will generate to fulfill the needs of our roads

SB-1 is expected to bring in somewhere between $4.7 and $5.6 billion in annual revenues. this still falls short of the annual transportation revenue deficits that California's been running. Our current shortfall has been $9.8 billion each year recently. And we've also got an addition $137 billion in deferred maintenance. We've dug ourselves into quite a hole in the state, so to speak.

On another possible way to generate funds to fix the roads

One possible solution is to fund roadway repair and improvement by a system that taxes some sort of usage. The idea being drivers who use the road the most will pay the most to keep them in good shape. Other states including Oregon have been studying this as well. That early report will be released later this year.

Motor critic Sue Carpenter has been participating in a pilot program that's looking at how the mile-based tax might work. It's called The Road Charge pilot.

A meeting of the California Transportation Commission last Friday revealed early results from the pilot, which had recruited 5,000 volunteers to report the miles they drove through a variety of systems, including smart phone apps and plug-in devices. Carpenter explained some of the finding to Martinez.

"With the 5,000 vehicles the program generated about $12,000 per month. The number of miles driven by the trucks was way higher than the passengers vehicles. Trucks were just one percent of the participating vehicles but they drove eight percent of the miles.

Drivers in rural areas pay less with a road charge system, even though they drive more miles. That’s mostly because the cars they drive are less fuel-efficient.

The majority of pilot participants were satisfied with the system. And it didn’t matter what their regardless of their age was, their gender, their income, their ethnicity or where they lived.

Part of the reason they were satisfied is because they thought they'd be paying more with a mileage fee than a gas tax; most people thought they'd be paying about $40 per month but in reality they "paid" about $15. Because it’s simulated money in this thing! Participants said being charged by the mile did not affect their driving behavior at all. They didn’t drive any more or any less." 

According to D'Artagnan Consulting,​​ with all new vehicles switched to a road charge system by 2040, a road charge could bring in about 10 times as much income as a gas tax.

The Road Charge Pilot will continue with more analysis, as well as testing of a new type of tracking and payment system that would allow drivers to pay their mileage fee at the pump.

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above. 

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