Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Why The Effort to Repeal The Gas Tax Must Die

California Republicans, after years of shrinking numbers, have looked at state demographics and decided to grow their ranks by publicly backing ambitious bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects.

(long silence)

I'm just kidding. They want to repeal the gas tax (you know the one that is paying for repairing streets and bringing train infrastructure into the 21st century, and so on) and they managed to put a measure on the November ballot to do just that. 

For the record: when you ask people to pay taxes, they usually say no.  Samantha Bee put it best on her show when she talked about the wretched financial mess that is Colorado. Here's the clip: 

California has actually been down a Colorado-like road before, and it wasn't until I read up on Proposition 13 - the anti-tax initiative of 1978 - that The Golden State made more sense to me in its own backwards way. 

One of the things Proposition 13 did was make it impossible to raise property taxes very much - again. So forty years after Proposition 13, we have boomers and silents living in houses for decades and paying a pittance in property taxes - and the tax bill goes up when they sell the house (which, around here, appreciates in value). 

I took this photo on a bike waiting to make a left turn. Anyone who looks over a sea of automobiles and thinks they need to make driving cheaper has officially run out of ways to move the world forward.

That is a great deal if you are an older homeowner but it stinks if you're a young one. 

Put another way: in 1978 California homeowners put an infrastructure in place that would give them benefits that would last decades and preserve their world at the expense of others. In 2018 California motorists want to put an infrastructure in place to shield them from road maintenance and preserve their ability to drive cheaply and guilt-free. 

If they're successful like they were in 1978 their jubilation (here I am thinking of the smug face of Howard Jarvis on the cover of Time) will mask a horror that awaits every generation that follows theirs - and given the news of Justice Anthony Kennedy retiring from the Supreme Court those horrors are on a lot of people's minds today. 

If you drive a car and don't ride a bike that's okay. But the lack of bike infrastructure and acceptance affects you too by creating more drivers you have to compete with on the roads. Cyclists give you space. Give them some too.

But we can't change Kennedy's retirement, can't (immediately) undo the travel ban or the decision to bleed unions. What we can do - California cyclists, walkers, transit activists, people who understand the significance of switching from Level of Service to Vehicle Miles Traveled and even self-driving efficionados - is make sure the gas tax repeal and any Republican backing it loses this fall.

That's not as easy a sentance to write as you might think. As you may have guessed with my Cycling with Candidates series, I don't want Democrats or Republicans to carry the cycling issue. I have no interest in it being partisan. I want leaders to argue with one another over what kind of bike/ped infrastructure should be built, argue about ways to pay for it, and debate about how best to create laws and infrastructure that work.

This should already be happening. Conservatives should wake up tomorrow and think: "You know, we have tens of millions of young people out there with a paper-thin loyalty to the Democratic Party and no money or desire to own a car, and few places to live. Let's eliminate the burdensome regulations like parking minimums and live within our means by only building bike and pedestrian infrastructure." 

Deep down, liberal cyclists: you want this too. I know I wish Connecticut Republicans would stand up up and say: "The Merritt Parkway Trail is a stupid idea. It costs too much, won't be plowed, goes nowhere, cuts across too many roads to be of interest to professionals and is too hilly for amateurs and it doesn't go anywhere! Instead we'll make a bike boulevard that runs the lenght of Rt. 1 - it'll be cheaper, better, and will benefit the businesses that are clustered on the coast.*"

Because Connecticut Republicans never say the part in italics - at least not yet - Democrats coalesce around a mishmash of priorities and don't get very far on any of them.

But back to the gas tax: Republicans are playing the 1978 playbook that gave them a generational victory but today I think they have chosen the wrong hill to die on. A lot of Gen Xers and even more Millennials don't like driving and don't want to or can't afford a car. They don't feel as strongly about paying a mere twenty cents a day more to do something they know they shouldn't be doing as angry white homeowners felt about rising property taxes in the 1970s. 

Please, cycling brothers and sisters: prove me right. 

California Republicans need to lose the effort to repeal the gas tax. Actually, they need to lose in the most humiliating and one-sided way imaginable. They have to look like a punchline for the joke they insist on telling even though we're saying "we've heard this one before." The gas tax repeal has has to be knocked out with a closed fist, spin around twice like Biff Tannen, and then slump, unconscious, beside Dr. Emmett Brown's Packard.**

We live with the legacy of Proposition 13 every day in California. NIMBYism, a lack of affordable housiing and, as I mentioned a few months back, a knack for denying a change that is coming. Cyclists: do you want to live in a world where motorists get to keep driving around cost-free and stick you and your unborn 1.5 children with the bill in perpetuity? If your answer is yes don't visit my site again. 

If the answer is no, please join me in voting against anything the GOP ever puts in front of you having to do with reducing, eliminating, scaling back, or dumping the gas tax or bridge tolls. Let's put California Republicans into the grave they are intent on digging - and perhaps someday they will rise and we'll have a bike infrastructure arms race between the left and the right. Meaningful debate, forward-thinking plans. Sounds good to me. Thanks for reading and thanks for VOTING. 

*I'm not sorry to write that, People Friendly Stamford: The Merritt Parkway Trail is a dead horse you've been flogging or  too long. Focus on downtown, let young people lead, and stop carrying water for the trail alliance people. The people I know in Stamford don't want to ride from Maine to Florida. They want to ride from their house to the library.

**Did you understand that reference? No? Then you are who I am talking to! And if you did understand it, I am talking to you too.


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