Under the State Constitution, the Legislature can only pass a new tax or increase an existing tax with a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature. The Legislature does not need to get voter approval for new or increased taxes that it passes.
Fuel & Vehicle Taxes. The state charges excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. These taxes are set on a per-gallon basis. The state also charges sales taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. These taxes are set as a percent of the price of the fuel. State law requires vehicle owners to pay two specific taxes for the privilege of operating a vehicle on public highways. These are (1) vehicle license fees and (2) recently enacted transportation improvement fees, both of which are based on a vehicle’s value.
Transportation funding in California currently is estimated to total $35 billion. Of this amount, $16 billion comes from local sources, $12 billion from state sources, and $7 billion from federal sources. Local funding mainly comes from sales taxes, transit fares, and city and county general funds, while federal funding mainly comes from federal fuel taxes. State funding mainly comes from state fuel and vehicle taxes. State funding has increased by about three-quarters over the last two years mainly due to recent legislation.
Recent State Transportation Funding Legislation. In 2017, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill (SB) 1 to increase annual state funding for transportation through various fuel and vehicle taxes (shown in Figure 1). Specifically, SB 1 increased the base gasoline excise tax (by 12 cents per gallon) and the diesel sales tax (by 4 percent). It also set fixed rates on a second (add-on) gasoline excise tax and the diesel excise tax, both of which previously could change each year based on fuel prices. Further, SB 1 created the transportation improvement fee (which ranges from $25 to $175 per year) and a fee specifically for zero-emission vehicles (set at $100 per year for model years 2020 and later). It also provides for inflation adjustments in the future. This fiscal year, the state expects the taxes to raise $4.4 billion. Two years from now, when all the taxes are in effect and the inflation adjustments have started, the state expects the taxes to raise $5.1 billion. The State Constitution requires that nearly all of these new revenues be spent on transportation purposes. Senate Bill 1 dedicates about two-thirds of the revenues to highway and road repairs, with the remainder going to other programs (such as for mass transit).
Proposition 6 Proposal
Requires Legislature to Get Voter Approval for Fuel and Vehicle Taxes. Proposition 6 amends the State Constitution to require the Legislature to get voter approval for new or increased taxes on the sale, storage, use, or consumption of gasoline or diesel fuel, as well as for taxes paid for the privilege of operating a vehicle on public highways. Thus, the Legislature would need voter approval for such taxes as gasoline and diesel excise and sales taxes, vehicle license fees, and transportation improvement fees.
Eliminates Recently Enacted Fuel and Vehicle Taxes. Proposition 6 also eliminates any such fuel and vehicle taxes passed by the Legislature after January 1, 2017 and up to the date that Proposition 6 takes effect in December. This would eliminate the increased fuel taxes and the transportation improvement fees enacted by SB 1.
Source: LAO Analysis of Proposition 6