The big fright comes the day after Halloween this year, as California motorists wake up Wednesday to gasoline prices pumped up by a 12-cent gas tax increase, the highest in the nation this year and one that has unsettled consumers and prompted a Republican backlash.
Effective at midnight, the petroleum price bump is the work of California Democrats, including Gov. Jerry Brown, who approved a measure in April expected to raise about $5.4 billion a year over the next decade for road improvements and other transportation projects.
About half the money will go to improvements of state highways and bridges, with the other half allocated to local governments and transit agencies for street and road repairs, and transit services.
Sonoma County and its nine cities anticipate $18.7 million a year in new road and transportation funding from the measure, according to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.
State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who voted for the bill, SB 1, called it “the largest infusion of ongoing transportation dollars into Sonoma County in history.”
No one likes to raise gas taxes, he said, but a $59 billion deferred maintenance backlog for the state highway system along with a $79 billion backlog for local roads made action unavoidable, McGuire said.
“We have a crisis on our roadways,” he said, noting California has not raised state gas taxes in 24 years.
California had the seventh highest state gas tax rate in the nation at 38 cents per gallon as of Jan. 1, according to the Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy nonprofit founded in 1937. Pennsylvania had the top rate at 58 cents a gallon and Alaska was lowest at 12 cents.
California’s fuel tax increase is the largest of any state since New Jersey’s 23-cent increase a year ago, said Patrick DeHaan, an analyst for the Gasbuddy.com website.
The Golden State’s overall gas price is typically the highest in the continental United States, as was the case Tuesday when California’s statewide average price for a gallon of regular gas was $3.07, the only one over the $3 mark, according to Gasbuddy.com.
The average price nationwide was $2.48 a gallon, the website said.
In Santa Rosa, prices ranged from $2.79 to $3.29, according to Gasbuddy’s consumer-reported survey.
Ivan Ayarca of Rohnert Park, gassing up Tuesday at the Arco station at Mendocino and College avenues, said he wasn’t aware of the imminent tax hike as he paid $3.49 for the supreme blend.
“It’s kind of steep for me,” said the Santa Rosa Junior College student whose budget is tight.
Ayarca had no doubt dealers will pass along the tax to motorists.
“They’re gonna do it,” he said. “All about money.”
At the same station, Carol Ann Vega of Rohnert Park said she wasn’t filling up to beat the tax increase, but simply out of need.
“Whether (the price) goes up or down, I need gas,” she said.
Vega said she would vote to rescind the tax “in a minute.”
Two contenders for the Republican gubernatorial nomination — John Cox, a San Diego businessman, and Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach — are backing proposed 2018 ballot measures that would repeal the tax hike.
Annual revenue from the 12-cent gasoline tax increase that takes effect Wednesday is:
Sonoma County: $11,551,397
Santa Rosa: $3,575,012
Rohnert Park: $860,951
Source: Sonoma County Transportation Authority
Here’s how the state will apply most of the $5 billion in gasoline sales tax revenue annually over the next 10 years:
State highway maintenance: $1.8 billion
Local road repairs: $1.5 billion
Transit agency funding: $750 million
State bridge, culvert maintenance: $400 million
Trade corridor enhancements: $300 million
Congested corridor improvements: $250 million
Local agency matching funds: $200 million
Bike, pedestrian projects: $100 million
Local planning grants: $25 million
Freeway service patrol: $25 million
Transportation: $7 million
Workforce training: $5 million
Source: State of California, Rebuilding California