California gas tax increases Monday

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Gasoline taxes in California

30 cents — State gas tax

18.4 cents — Federal gas tax

17.3 cents — Variable state gas tax

8.4 cents — 2.25% sales tax*

3.6 cents— Average local sales taxes

2.0 cents — Underground storage tank fee

79.7 cents ­— TOTAL

* based on average price of $3.75 a gallon

Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

Starting Monday, Californians will spend a bit more each time they stop to gas up their tanks.

The state’s gasoline tax rose nearly 6 cents a gallon, the second in a series of tax hikes to improve the state’s aging transportation system. The increase, which will cost drivers about $1 more for every fill-up, will boost what already are the nation’s highest prices at the pump.

“I was just rolling my eyes at the sign,” Taylor Cosgrove, 26, said last week after pulling into the Chevron at the corner of College and Mendocino avenues in Santa Rosa. “Honestly, it is what it is. You have to drive. There’s really no other option.”

Prices at the station Sunday were $3.96 a gallon of regular — and $4.06 for the premium gasoline Cosgrove uses to fuel her white BMW 328i.

The increase was set in motion in 2017, when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1 to fund transportation improvements. The first increase — 11.7 cents on a gallon of gasoline — was implemented that November. The second, which boosts the tax by 5.6 cents a gallon — takes effect Monday.

The taxes will be adjusted annually for inflation, which historically has climbed roughly 3 percent annually — potentially increasing state fuel taxes by another 1.5 cents a gallon yearly.

Californians now pay nearly 80 cents in state and federal taxes on a gallon of gasoline.

The figures exclude the impact of California’s cap-and-trade system to reduce climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions, which analysts have said adds 10 to 12 cents a gallon to the price of gasoline.

SB 1 also imposed a new vehicle license fee of $25 to $175, depending on the car’s value, in 2018, and a $100 yearly zero-emission vehicle fee starting July 1, 2020.

The increased costs to drivers are a necessary evil to address a backlog of infrastructure maintenance that has built from decades of neglect since the last gas tax increase in the early 1990s, said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“People just got complacent. No one wanted to raise the gas tax, and the thought was that someone can pay for it later,” Rentschler said.

“Our parents and grandparents built us this incredible infrastructure, but the fact of the matter is the generation in charge took that for granted and it’s time to catch up.”

Last month, the California chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers in its annual review gave the state’s infrastructure an overall C- grade. That included a C for rail, a C- for bridges and transit and a D for roads.

The money the state collects from gasoline taxes — estimated at $5.2 billion each year — primarily goes toward upgrades on existing state and local roads and bridges, such as repairs and repaving of highways.

A number of large-scale projects are in line for those dollars as well, including $85 million toward the Sonoma County side of the ongoing Highway 101 Marin-Sonoma Narrows lane-widening and $10 million for an environmental study of Highway 37.

About $19 million each year also goes to fund improvements on city and county roads in Sonoma County, which for years has had some of the Bay Area’s worst-ranked roads, according to the MTC.

Gasoline taxes in California

30 cents — State gas tax

18.4 cents — Federal gas tax

17.3 cents — Variable state gas tax

8.4 cents — 2.25% sales tax*

3.6 cents— Average local sales taxes

2.0 cents — Underground storage tank fee

79.7 cents ­— TOTAL

* based on average price of $3.75 a gallon

Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

A smaller slice of the pie goes to public transit projects, such as SMART commuter rail, which last year was awarded $20 million in SB 1 money toward its extension north to Windsor.

Even so, the $65 to fill his Mercedes-Benz E400 convertible with premium doesn’t sit well with Novato resident Tony Mariscal. The Santa Rosa Junior College student said he spends that much once every week and a half to fuel his commute to school, and with prices going up he fears a tank of gas could soon cost as much as $70 — even if it means better roads.

“At the end of the day, we’re still paying for it,” Mariscal, 19, said waiting for the pump to stop at the Santa Rosa Chevron just north of campus. “I’m not a fan of it. Every dollar counts.”

That perspective was one anti-tax advocates hoped to leverage when they attempted to repeal SB 1 last November in a statewide ballot initiative. California voters defeated the effort, with 57% voting to maintain the new taxes on gas to improve the state’s transportation system.

“It’s about time,” said Rentschler. “A lot of our infrastructure is just wearing out. It appears fine, but it’s not. Lots of roads were built at a certain time and just need to be replaced and fixed. Even with SB 1, it’s still insufficient to do that, because we’re so far behind.”

For Cosgrove, rising fuel costs are yet another example of the region’s surging cost of living, which makes it difficult for her to justify staying in Sonoma County where she grew up.

Spending more at the pump means she’ll plan to drive a little less, but it’s a price she’s willing to pay if she starts to see upgrades to the rough streets she’s used to driving in Santa Rosa.

“If they’re raising the tax for roads, cool, but I don’t see it,” Cosgrove said before driving off. “If I see improvements, increase gas by 50 cents a gallon, sure.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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