San Diego County May Implement 4-Cent-per-Mile Tax

San Diego County May Implement 4-Cent-per-Mile Tax
Heavy vehicular traffic in the Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Diego, Calif., ahead of the Fourth of July holiday on July 3, 2020. (Bing Guan/Reuters)

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) board met on Oct. 29 virtually to discuss a four-cent-per-mile tax proposal that could impact every driver in San Diego County by 2030.

The proposed mileage tax is intended to supplement and eventually replace gas taxes, whose revenue has decreased considerably as gas mileage has increased and hybrid and electric cars ownership has grown exponentially in recent years.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond said the proposal was intended to “force everyone onto trolleys and buses” by pricing people out of their cars.

“This proposal should never see the light of day,” Desmond said. “San Diegans already pay some of the highest prices to drive in the country. From the current gas taxes to a vehicle registration tax, San Diegans feel the effects in their wallets every day.

“Adding another tax to fund public transportation is a slap in the face,” he said. “I will not support any new taxes or fees upon San Diegans until the promised projects are completed.”

The proposed tax would help pay for SANDAG’s long-term regional plan—an ambitious 30-year, $160 billion proposal which could include no-cost public transit and a 200-mile, $43 billion regional rail network.

In the public comment session, people voiced different opinions on the proposal.

“It is undeniable that we are in a climate crisis. ... We are out of time to address this climate emergency,” said Bee Mittermiller, “Transportation is a source of nearly half of our emissions in the county as a result of over-reliance on private vehicles. ... We need a world-class transportation system, and this plan must be a long-lasting investment in our communities, equity jobs, and our future.”

Carolina Martínez from the Environmental Health Coalition and the San Diego Transportation Equity Working Group said that this proposal not only helps alleviate the environmental issues but also helps the low-income communities in San Diego.

“Overall, 93 percent of San Diego’s low-income residents do not have access to fast and frequent transit, and the proposed Regional Plan provides [a] critical lifeline to change that,” she said.

Dorothy Martin, who moved from Los Angeles to San Diego due to the cleaner environment, opposed the proposal.

“I think that we have something to be thankful for in San Diego County,” said Martin, “[but this proposal] is taking a lot of revenue from North County and applying it to projects in other parts of the county that we don’t see a direct benefit.

“I feel that it would punish me, for example, as a driver of a personal vehicle for my business, personal and recreational use of those vehicles. I think that is something that is [an] infringement on my freedom.”

Another attendee voiced concerns about the implementation of gas tax reduction.

“The ability to enforce it is going to be a nightmare. I don’t think that’s going to work. As a consequence, we’re actually going to lose funding money.”

SANDAG has estimated the plan could raise more than $34 billion through 2050, but the agency’s chief economist, Ray Major, said the final figures would change once the scope was narrowed to implementation of the proposal in 2030.

The board is expected to review the item further on Dec. 10.

City News Service contributed to this report.