If you live in California, and you allow yourself to think about taxes, there’s a good chance you’re thinking about gasoline.
On November 1st, our gas tax jumped 12 cents. Vehicle registration fees jumped as well, from $25 to $175, depending on the car.
Why the tax hike? Roads. Bridges. Highways. California’s infrastructure has been falling behind for decades. So lawmakers in Sacramento decided the best way to pay to fix it are new taxes and fees. Not everyone is happy about that, including lawmakers like Assemblyman Jim Patterson.
“The argument is always, ‘we can’t do what the state wants to do for you, if you don’t give us more money,'” says Patterson. “And I say wait a minute, the state has plenty of money. It has sticky fingers is what it has.”
The former Fresno mayor has plenty to say, especially about the already existing State Highway Fund we already pay for that he says is getting robbed.
“That fund right now is paying the principle and interest payment of the High Speed Rail debt,” says Patterson. “High Speed Rail is not a highway. It is a railroad.”
But of course the gas tax is not the only tax.
California has the nation’s highest sales taxes. And the top tier of our state income tax is the highest in the country.
And those are the taxes you know about.
But what about the Highway Patrol Fee? $24 of your vehicle registration goes to the CHP every year.
A smog abatement fee? $20 for cars less than six years old.
There’s a California tire fee, at $1.75 per tire.
Some local governments charge an abandoned vehicle tax. $1 to help with clean up programs.
And then there’s the reflectorized plate fee. $1 to make sure your license plate is nice and shiny when you buy it.
Tate Hill knows the challenges taxes can bring. He works with emerging businesses in the Fresno area.
“There’s a fee or a tax pretty much for everything,” Hill says. “If you want to change the designation of your building, there’s a tax. If you want the application to change the designation of your building, there’s a tax. If you want to sell something, there’s a tax. If you don’t want to sell something there’s a tax.”
Hill is not anti-tax. He sees it as a necessity. But he also worries we in the Valley are getting short-changed.
“California has a number of different taxes,” says Hill. “And the Central Valley has far greater needs, and in many cases is not getting the share it needs.”
So where is our money headed?
According to the California Taxpayers Association, the majority of the state’s general fund goes to either education or healthcare. 31.5 percent to Health and Human Services. 30 percent to K thru 12 education. And another nine percent to higher education. That’s 70 percent of the budget, right there.
The next biggest chunk? Jails. California spends more than 13 billion dollars on Corrections and Rehabilitation, eight percent of the budget. Transportation gets six percent of the general fund money. Labor and workforce development? One-half of one percent.
Liz Sanchez’s Casa de Tamales has grown over the past seven years. She just re-opened her Fulton Street location.
She says taxes hurt, but there is help.
“There are lots of services available and tax breaks available,” says Sanchez. “You have to go through the motions to be able to do that, but it’s worth the time and investment to do that.”
Sanchez says business owners are hit by different taxes in different times of the year. A city tax in February. A county tax in March. Plus, state and federal. She wishes she could pay them all at one time.
“Kind of rolled up in one,” she says. “That would be fantastic.”
But will new taxes continue to pop up? Assemblyman Patterson says without a doubt.
Patterson says in the first six months of the last legislative session, state lawmakers introduced about a third of a billion dollars in new taxes.
Most of that doesn’t become law. But some of it does. And all of it, Patterson says, is a shame.
“There is sort of a shell game going on,” he says. “And the more I am in Sacramento, the more I dig into this and look at it, the more astounded I am.”