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California Launches Pilot Program To Charge Drivers By The Mile; Author admits law will "burden families"

By       Message Martin Hill       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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In a surprisingly under-the-radar development, Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a program that will set up the infrastructure to charge California motorists by the mile. Brown signed SB-1077 into law on September 29th. Officially titled 'Vehicles: road usage charge pilot program' , the law will create a task force to address all the aspects of a 'charge-drivers-by-the-mile' program in the state, which would replace the purportedly 'ineffective' and 'inadequate' gasoline tax.

SB-1077 passed by the CA assembly on Aug 25 and the State Senate Aug 26. The bill's own author admits that "the mileage charge could burden families in California," and its co-author admits that "the task force and pilot program will likely consume substantial resources."

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SB-1077 states, in part, that "the revenues currently available for highways and local roads are inadequate to preserve and maintain existing infrastructure and to provide funds for improvements that would reduce congestion and improve service." It adds

  • The gas tax is an ineffective mechanism for meeting California's long-term revenue needs.
  • Road-usage charging is a policy whereby motorists pay for the use of the roadway network based on the distance they travel. Drivers pay the same rate per mile driven, regardless of what part of the roadway network they use.
  • It is therefore important that the state begin to explore alternative revenue sources that may be implemented in lieu of the antiquated gas tax structure now in place.

The law also notes that the task force would take the following into consideration, not shy about their use of force and confiscation:

  • The ease and cost of recording and reporting highway use.
  • The ease and cost of administering the collection of taxes and fees as an alternative to the current system of taxing highway use through motor-vehicle fuel taxes.
  • Effective methods of maintaining compliance.

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The author of SB-1077 was State Senator Mark DeSaulnier and the coauthor was assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal.

DeSaulnier, a 52-year-old Democrat who has served in the state legislature since 2006 as an assemblyman then a senator, is currently running for U.S. Congress. He describes himself as a "passionate progressive, fighting for Contra Costa County" who wants to "move forward with President Obama's agenda" and also lists the goal of "reducing traffic." He's endorsed by the 'California Association of Highway Patrolmen,' the Sierra Club, and the National Organization for Women (NOW).

An article on his senate website about SB1077 states that "DeSaulnier said he recognizes the mileage charge could burden families in California"... I don't think people understand what dire shape our transportation funding is in," the senator said. "We need to find a different funding source." The article also notes that DeSaulnier is "also aware of privacy concerns associated with the government tracking one's movements. Those could be allayed, he said, by having state officials read a car's odometer each year rather than installing a device as pilot projects."

However, that is contradicted by co-author Bonnie Lowenthal, who references "automatic license-plate readers" in an official state analysis of the bill.

Furthermore, the notion that a simple reading of motorists' odometers will suffice under the program is a disingenuous proposal, since people don't just drive inside the state. People take road trips, drive across the country, and travel many places outside of California. The state will definitely try to implement a tracking program for all vehicles. Currently, for example, the new 'cashless toll roads' that went into effect in Orange County, CA, are netting over 13,000 tickets PER DAY to motorists in Orange county alone, via these license-plate-reader cameras. Additionally, while the law is being promoted as replacing the 'ineffective' gasoline tax, you can guarantee that the state's gas tax will not be lowered or repealed.

California foresaw this scheme and outlawed the use of sprays such as 'photoblocker' sprays, which prevent cameras from reading the license plate. AB 801 went into effect January 1, 2008. CA Assembly member WALTERS introduced the bill, and SOLORIO was the coauthor: "This bill prohibits the use of or sale of a product or device that is used to obscure a license plate from being read by an electronic device operated by law enforcement or a toll road." Senator Tom McClintock, to his credit, was the only person to vote against the bill. McClintock went on to become a U.S. Congressman. [Visit the Tom McClintock Archive Page here.]

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Lowenthal, Chairman of the ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION, noted that SB-1077 directs the task force to consider "The ease and cost of administering the collection of taxes and fees as an alternative to the current system of taxing highway use through motor-vehicle gas taxes; Effective methods of maintaining compliance; The ease of re-identifying location data; Risks for privacy concerns when used with other technologies, such as automatic license-plate readers." She also ordered the task force to discuss "Data-collection technology."

Most notably, Lowenthal admits that "the task force and pilot program will likely consume substantial resources." The bill was supported by various groups and was opposed by five unnamed "individuals." Bonnie's bio states she's "a member of the Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative," and has received awards from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Several other politicians have promoted the idea of charging drivers by the mile. Republican Tom Petri, an 18-term Congressman from Wisconsin, has long maintained that the fuel tax is "obsolete" and that he's 'particularly interested' in a 'vehicle-miles traveled fee' to resolve the problem on a national scale. He claims it's only a matter of political will and public acceptance." Arnold Schwarzenegger, while Governor of California, appointed a DMV chief in 2004 who advocated a charge-by-the-mile tax, with nearly 100 per cent of Californians against the idea. Former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently proposed raising the federal fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon and noted the 'potential of vehicle-miles-traveled tax projects.'

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Catholic paleo-libertarian from California., promotes limited government and civil liberties

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