SANDAG Board Removes Controversial ‘Mileage Tax’ From 2025 Regional Plan

SANDAG Board Removes Controversial ‘Mileage Tax’ From 2025 Regional Plan
Cars travel north towards Los Angeles on interstate highway 5 in San Diego, Calif., on Feb. 10, 2016. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
City News Service

SAN DIEGO—The San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) Board of Directors voted 15-4 on Sept. 22 to remove any mention of a controversial Regional Road User Charge—sometimes referred to as a mileage tax—from its 2025 Regional Plan.

San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones led the charge to excise the tax, leading a protest outside SANDAG’s office Friday morning before the board met.

“This policy threatened the core principles of American freedom and imposed a disproportionate burden on the majority of our region’s residents,” said El Cajon Mayor Bills Wells, also a vocal opponent to the tax. “Today, we proudly announce a committed and unified stance to eliminate this regressive tax.”

“The notion of being tracked and taxed for every mile one drives is fundamentally contrary to the values that define our great nation,” he said. “San Diego has long stood as a beacon of individual liberty and personal choice, and the mileage tax undermines these principles at their core.”

In December 2021, SANDAG approved the 2021 Regional Transportation Plan without the mileage tax, leaving some doubts as to how the agency would fund the $165 billion plan.

A four-cents-per-mile road usage tax proposal and two half-cent regional sales taxes proposed for 2022 and 2028 were some of the key funding strategies SANDAG leadership proposed. SANDAG estimated the road usage tax could raise more than $34 billion through 2050, but the agency’s chief economist, Ray Major, said the final figures would have changed once the scope was narrowed to implementation of the proposal in 2030.

However, San Diego County Supervisor Chairwoman Nora Vargas said much of the concern was coming from a place of misinformation.

“The previous SANDAG Board directed an amendment to remove the [Road User Charge] from the regional plan,” Ms. Vargas wrote in a statement. “SANDAG is working on this and will submit the amendment to the state. The state will make the final decision. To be clear, no government agency has the authority to implement a tax that would impact our region without voter approval.”

Last September, SANDAG’s Board of Directors voted to exclude it from SANDAG’s Regional Transportation plan, following several Democratic lawmakers making a last-minute turn against the proposal.

SANDAG’s Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata proceeded anyway with a plan that retained the charge. Mr. Ikhrata has since announced his departure from the regional planning agency, effective Dec. 29.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond is a frequent critic of SANDAG’s regional transportation plan, saying the organization “needs a plan we can all buy into regionally, instead of doom and gloom, and mileage taxes.”

The board is made up of representatives from the 18 municipalities in the county and from the county at large.

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