Caltrans California Road Charge pilot program receives frosty reception from supervisors, county staff

Lauren Prehoda, the Caltrans Road Charge program director, encountered heavy resistance from the Lassen County Board of Supervisors and county leaders when she appeared at the board’s Tuesday, April 11 meeting to announce a new pilot program that if approved is designed to replace the current gas tax in California.

“I’d love to have questions and feedback about this idea,” Prehoda told the board. “Don’t pull any punches. We want to know what you guys think.”

Several speakers bitterly reacted to this as simply the most recent example of the urban liberals who control state government forcing another state-mandated program on conservative, rural North State residents that makes absolutely no sense in our neck of the woods.

According to Prehoda’s presentation, the state has identified four issues with the current gas tax: Fuel efficiency gains (gas-powered vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient so owners buy less gas and the government receives less fuel tax); Increase in zero emission vehicles (vehicles that do not use gas (such as electric vehicles) do not pay any fuel tax); Inflation and loss of purchasing power (ongoing inflation reduces how much gas tax revenues can purchase and highway construction costs increase faster than inflation); Uneven fuel tax burden (newer and more expensive vehicles tend to be more fuel efficient. Owners of older, less fuel-efficient vehicles play more to us the road. The fuel tax burden is uneven and inequitable.

County Administrative Officer Richard Egan acknowledged the issue is complicated, but he suggested the state could come up with a way to address the fee paid by owners of electric vehicles who are currently not paying their fair share.

Maury Anderson, Lassen County’s planning director, said, “I think this is deplorable … It’s not fair. It’s not equitable. I think it’s terrible.”

District 4 Supervisor Aaron Albaugh said a simple solution would be for the state to cut its expenses instead of always asking the taxpayers to pay more and more.

District 5 Supervisor Jason Ingram noted the large number of residents fleeing the state and asked if the goal of this was to get everyone to move?

District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher noted millions of out-of-state visitors come to California each year, and he wondered how they would participate in this new system. Commercial out-of-state trucking would be another issue.

District 3 Supervisor Tom Neely railed against the imposition of “administrative fees.”

“Why do we need to pay you administration fees?” Neely asked. “You guys should be able to send our portion of the money directly to the county. We know how to be very frugal in our spending. We don’t need to pay the state more administration to fees to have the state give us our money … We can figure out how to account for that money in a lot better way than the state.”

District 2 Supervisor Gary Bridges said many north state residents such as ranchers or OHV enthusiasts drive many miles on their property or on unpaved roads.

“There’s a lot of things here I don’t think you’ve gone through with a fine-toothed comb that’s going to work for everybody, especially those in the rural areas,” Bridges said. “And again, it’s going to be the rural areas who are really going to be paying the price … I agree with Mr. Egan. Let’s focus on the EVs, they’re the ones who caused this problem to start with and work it out from there.”

According to Prehoda’s presentation, the Road Charge, an innovative funding mechanism, “more accurately ensures that all drivers are playing their fair share to use the road. Road Change allows drivers to support local road and highway maintenance based on how many miles they drive instead of how many gallons of gas they use … California is studying Road Charge as a replacement for the gas tax; one per mile rate for all passenger vehicles; revenue neutral, not a tax increase; aims to stabilize funding not change behavior; and no change in how funding is spent, existing formulas and programs remain.”

Road Charge contemplates a number of mileage reporting methods. Low technology methods include a time permit, a mileage permit and an odometer charge. High technology options include a plug-in device, a smartphone app or built in technology.

Road Charge also envisions third-party account managers would collect the money from taxpayers and then send the proceeds to the state.

Locals who want to participate in the pilot program and help spread the word may earn up to $250. To sign up, go to carroadcharge/engage/contact-us/.

Bridges asked Prehoda to come back monthly to give the board an update on how this new program is moving forward