Orange County Branch Newsletter

September 2015

Government Relations

Why raise the gas tax, it hasn’t changed in over 20 years?

By: Andrew Easterling, Ken Rosenfield, and Maria Mathews

Transportation is covered in the news daily. With stories ranging from congested highways to the long term planning of a high-speed rail system, it seems now is a good opportunity to explore how California is approaching transportation spending.

California’s transportation network is built up of more than you think.  Highways, and local roads are just one component of our infrastructure system, which also consists of; airports, seaports, railways, ferries, bike routes, pedestrian pathways and bus and public transit (e.g. bus and rail services).

These transportation assets are funded one of three ways: user fees, property related charges, and externalized subsidies.  Caltrans claims that approximately 27% of transportation funding in California is provided by state sources, such as the state gas tax, and the federal government provides approximately 24%. The remaining 49% is provided by taxes and fees collected by Regional and local governments (at least based on the 2013-14 Fiscal Year).

California Senate Bill 16 (now known as SB1X 1 in the Special Legislative Session) ,a transportation funding measure, has recently been passed by the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and is awaiting its third reading on the floor.  The bill focuses on providing long term stable funding for Transportation Infrastructure.  One of the ways, the bill would generate funds for a road Maintenance and Rehabilitation program is attributed to a 12-cent per gallon increase on the gasoline tax and 22-cent per gallon increase on the diesel tax.

The gas tax has been under scrutiny for some time at both the state and national level.  Neither the California nor the Federal gas tax have seen an increase in over 20 years.  While the prices of every other economic good continues to increase with inflation and the on-going trend towards more fuel efficient vehicles, the stagnant gas taxes have not been able to have the same impact they once did two decades ago.  Funding for transportation maintenance and improvements continue to fall short of our needs and increasing demands. 

As the California population continues to grow, the demands on our transportation systems increase, as well.  As we continue to stretch our ability to maintain and develop our transportation network under the current funding scheme, it is becoming imperative that we find a long-term funding solution quickly.

So far in 2015, legislators in Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington had the courage to pass gas tax increases.  The increases range from 6-cents in Nebraska to 11-cents in Washington State. These states join seven others who have raised their gas taxes over the last 2 years. Now is the time for California to join its neighbors and increase the investment in its own transportation systems. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate passed, by a vote of 65-34 a six-year, $350 billion road, bridge and transit policy bill that provides three years of dedicated funding and increases current investment levels before the July 31 legislative deadline.  Unfortunately, at the same time the Senate was forced to also pass a three-month extension or risk allowing the federal transportation program to shut down because the House of Representatives refused to act on the six-year Bill. We now wait for both chambers of Congress to return in September to begin working toward a possible solution before the new October 29, 2015, funding cliff arrives.

ASCE members, like you and I, have been working at both the state and national level to support long term solutions to transportation budget shortfalls. Currently the ASCE Region 9 Transportation Committee, led by Region Transportation Chair Kenneth H. Rosenfield, P.E., F.ASCE, is supporting Senate Bill 1X 1 and needs you to continue to build on this effort with key policymakers in Sacramento. At the federal level, ASCE is driving the discussion for a long-term solution for national transportation funding through its #FixtheTrustFund campaign.  I encourage you to take a moment to read more about ASCE’s Position Statement on Transportation Funding.

If you would like to take action on these issues, please take a few minutes to sign up for the ASCE Key Contact Program at and send a letter or call your State or Federal legislators through ASCE’s “Click and Connect” page.  Please visit  or to learn more about these topics.

Related Groups/Committees