Governor Jerry Brown vs. The Freeloaders

We're All Freeloaders Now

On April 28, 2017, Jerry Brown changed the meaning of the word freeloader – it now means taxpayer!  

This is what the governor said in Orange County about road users, during a speech supporting both the recent gas tax increase and State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who might be facing a recall for voting in favor of the tax:

 "The freeloaders—I've had enough of them…Roads require money to fix.  You want to borrow money and pay double? Or do nothing? Or take money from universities?”

In his speech, Governor Brown talked about pay as you go, deferred road maintenance that needs immediate attention, and not adding to California’s already substantial debt.  What he did not spell out is how much money from Senate Bill 1 -- a $52-billion transportation package that increases gas and vehicle registration fees -- will go to other than road maintenance and improvements over the next 10 years.  

Estimated allocations to cities and counties:

* $7.5 billion for transit operations and capital.
* $2 billion for the local partnership program (state money that matches money raised by cities and counties to fund transit systems like BART or other transportation projects).
* $1 billion for the Active Transportation Program (program aims to increase the proportion of trips accomplished by biking and walking).
* $250 million for local planning grants (the Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant Program)

Estimated allocations to state programs:

* $800 million for parks programs, off-highway vehicle programs, boating programs, and agricultural programs.
* $70 million for transportation research at the University of California and the California State University.
 
SB1’s text reveals other clues that basic penny-pinching road maintenance and improvement are hardly focused objectives of this tax increase:

* The bill advances greenhouse gas reduction objectives and other environmental goals by focusing on “fix-it-first” projects, investments in transit and active transportation, and supporting Senate Bill 375.

* Projects within the boundaries of a metropolitan planning organization must be included in an adopted regional transportation plan that includes a sustainable communities strategy determined by the State Air Resources Board to achieve the region’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

* The bill would require the department to update the Highway Design Manual to incorporate the “complete streets” design concept by January 1, 2018.  (Note:  According to Caltrans, “A complete street is a transportation facility that is planned, designed, operated, and maintained to provide safe mobility for all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, transit vehicles, truckers, and motorists, appropriate to the function and context of the facility.”)

Tragedy of the Commons

No Tragedy of the Commons Here

Governor Brown would like to frame opposition to the gas tax as a tragedy of the commons (aka the free-rider problem).  However, to opponents, SB1 looks more like reaching a taxation breaking point.  Californians already pay the highest gas tax in the nation. 

Is it not time for legislators to curb their enthusiasm for “complete streets” and other frills of central planning, and focus on the basics, such as proliferating potholes and crumbling bridges?