Mixed reactions over per-mile road usage tax discussed by SANDAG board

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about what transpired at Friday’s SANDAG Board of Directors meeting. The road usage tax was only discussed, and the board will vote on the plan December 10.

SAN DIEGO — While some San Diegans are torn over a “road usage charge” tax proposal recently discussed by the San Diego Association of Governments Board, others feel differently about it.

Under the $163 billion proposal, drivers would be charged a few cents for every mile they drive locally as a way to fund road and transit improvements. A four-cent-per-mile tax — and two half-cent regional sales taxes are proposed for 2022 and 2028.

“We really need to look at climate change, but secondly we need the infrastructure,” said Michael Davis, who lives in Cortez.

Davis said the tax proposal is a good idea, but thinks it’s just bad timing.

“It’s a great idea when we get out of the pandemic, when people start working, when people start paying the bills, charge cards and so forth,” Davis said. “People with multiple kids, it’s very hard, maybe one car, maybe two cars, so they are going to be paying twice as much.”

Others say they haven’t seen the results promised from other tax hikes like Senate Bill 1.

“If you were to see the improvements on the road and you were to see everything that is happening because of the tax increase, then it would be great,” said downtown San Diego resident Mike Drew. “But I don’t see it that much and we are already paying so much.”

There has been mixed reactions from politicians, too. San Diego Todd Gloria said earlier this week the funds are needed for a regional transportation plan that aims to tackle a number of big ticket items.

The 30-year proposal would slash greenhouse gas emissions and introduce everything from new public transit hubs to freeway improvements that ease commutes, according to SANDAG. Officials also say it would give a helping hand to low-income residents whose lack of transportation options limits their opportunities.

Conservatives like radio host Carl DeMaio criticized the existing high tax rates in California.

The proposed mileage tax is meant to eventually replace gas taxes which haven’t generated as much funding with more electric vehicles on the road.

However, there are lingering questions on how the mileage would be collected and reported.

“How would they track and how would you know,” Drew said. “I mean, I thought it was just going to be a tax to increase the price of gas, but if we are going to start tracking cars, tracking phones, I think we have already got enough of that.”

A similar state pilot program signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September relies on odometer measurements or GPS tracking to determine the number of miles driven.

The final 2021 Regional Plan and Environmental Impact Report is expected to be released late November. After that, the SANDAG board will vote to adopt the plan at its December 10 meeting.

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