Taxing Gasoline is not Equitable

By Maria Isabel Cubillo Contributor

Think about how much you spend on gasoline each month.

Nicole Sotomayor drives from Lancaster to Cal State Long Beach and to her job in Universal City, accumulating more than 850 miles per week. Sotomayor says it takes her about $15 to $20 more to fill up her 12.5 gallon tank than it did last year.  

The California State Legislature approved Senate Bill 1 in April 2017 without a vote from Californians, increasing the tax on our gasoline by 12 cents per gallon. Although SB 1 is dubbed the “gas tax,” it is not the only culprit of the outrageously high gas prices in California. Federal and state taxes are also included in the price of gasoline.

Critics of Proposition 6, which will repeal SB 1, say the repair of our roads is on the line, but that argument is so emotionally charged. We need to take a step back and consider that the message is unnecessarily alarmist. Opposition to the gas tax increase is being compared to being okay with the breaking apart of bridges. However, this line of reasoning belittles the impact that this tax is having on a number of families for whom the tax is exorbitant. Those commuting long hours from their affordable housing to their workplace are hit the hardest.

SB 1 has more downsides for drivers because the bill will roll out another increase of 5.6 cents per gallon next summer. With the gas tax already costing us 12 cents per gallon, this additional tax will end up costing us a total of 17.6 cents for each gallon of gasoline.

"Those that fall into the category of poverty, they are sort of pushed out into the suburbs in order to afford housing.”

If one station is selling the gallon at $3.50 and another one at $3.38, we would choose the less expensive one. I’m assuming that you too are as frugal as me. However, you don’t even have to be that thrifty to notice and dislike how expensive paying for gas is every month.  

Some members of the Board of Equalization, the board who oversaw another optional increase in the excise tax, realize that Californians are feeling the impact in their budgets.

"Those that fall into the category of poverty, they are sort of pushed out into the suburbs in order to afford housing,” said board member Jerome Horton. “Now the cost of them driving to work has been increased significantly."  

Although the U.S. Census estimates the commute time of Long Beach residents at almost 30 minutes one-way, stories like Sotomayor’s should be given importance. Most of us already know that commuting to work or school can be an ordeal. It is a bit of a relief, though, that the votes of the four members of the Board ended up in a tie and the optional increase did not come to pass.

Gasoline is a necessity, not a luxury. It is unfair for consumers who will need to buy it despite the price.

Some may be out of touch as to what the gasoline excise tax does to a household on a limited budget. Research economists C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell and Lea Prince have critiqued this argument.

But taxing all drivers without considerations is not right, especially since some people’s only option for affordable housing can be miles away from their work.

In their paper titled “The optimal gas tax for California,” they argue that our gas tax is not high enough and that a higher price is justified because of our “congestion, accidents, air quality and environmental regulation.” Plus, they point out that since the demand for gasoline remains the same no matter what, a tax purely to raise revenue should be levied. In the midst of all their jargon, they do point out that the use of gasoline is “an inelastic demand,” which refers to the consumption of gasoline being steady in spite of the price. Those words are key because when consumer demand for a product does not fluctuate, that tells us the item is a necessity.

Although some may bring up that public transportation and “park-and-ride” options are an alternative to driving, let’s consider the amount of time it takes. Those of us who commute by car know that our commute it is filled with traffic. However, taking the bus or trains would triple our commute time. I have had years of experience riding the bus and trains and commuting in this way limits you to a short list of errands per day. For example, when I commuted by bus, it takes over two hours to get to school. Once I starting driving, the commute only took 45 minutes.

Since not all buses have Wi-Fi, completing school assignments is difficult. Getting up earlier and getting home late impacted my sleep. I had to take naps during the day at the Women’s & Gender Equity Center in order to function throughout the day.

Yes, our roadways need to be maintained. But taxing all drivers without considerations is not right, especially since some people’s only option for affordable housing can be miles away from their work. They are the ones hit the hardest by these taxes. We as constituents of California need to support a just way to fund the repairs in our roads.

Click here for more information on Prop 6.

Click here for an interactive map of where the SB 1 money is going. (The map works best with Google Chrome; it does not work in other browsers.)