How Many Times Do We Have to Pay for These Roads?

TRANSPORTATION WATCH--Most of us like paying for a given thing only once.  But hey, maybe some of us like paying for transportation and infrastructure so much that we'll pay not once, but three, four, five times for the exact same thing until finally, sort of, maybe, it gets paid for. 

As for little old me? I like paying for something once ... although I realize that budgets and disasters require some significant flexibility when reality makes yesterday's predictions null, void, and moot. And I've recommended sales taxes and higher gas taxes for decades to pay for transportation and infrastructure. 

I'm all for appropriate taxation...but I'm also for "Alpern's Law of Taxes" which states that the one thing taxpayers are more concerned about than the amount of taxes they pay is the perception about how well those taxes are spent. 

Let me repeat that again, more slowly … 

 ... the ... perception ... about ... how ... well ... those ... taxes ... are ... spent! 

But a funny thing happened over the past few decades.  The education unions needed to be FED. The public sector employee unions decided that early retirement in the mid-fifties, and getting paid big time in retirement at a salary similar to those still working, took precedence over that little thing called financial sustainability. 

And even former Governor Schwarzenegger showed he had no spine or willingness to explain that one could be PRO-teacher, PRO-education, PRO-roads, PRO-rail, PRO-business, PRO-health care, and PRO-taxpayer all at once. 

So, here’s the drill: We scream about the roads, gather more taxes, bonds, fees, whatever and then when we get more money for infrastructure we yank money from the general fund for “other” things to placate the unions. 

And whadaya know?  We don't have enough money for roads, rail, sewage, water, and other infrastructure all over again!  But the percentage of our budget going to pensions and inefficient/inappropriate spending continues to rise. 

Lather, rinse, repeat. 

Seen any new universities get built lately?  The cost of education go down?  The ability of the middle class to thrive?  Businesses with lots of middle or upper class jobs go up, with either an industrial or intellectual economic base go up to pay for everything? 

I didn't see any of that, either. 

And here's the kicker, fellow taxpayers, and fellow Californians: 

You already paid for universities, and roads, and everything nice, several times over and got that tax/bond/fee money indirectly yanked towards ‘something else’ … and you will now pay for all of that yet again. 

I'm not for ANY one-party state, either Republican or Democrat.  Boondoggles and sweetheart deals that favor a few and thrash the majority is not OK. 

We now have an upper economic class of technological and other professionals who are in nice and/or gated communities.  They may grumble and get angry about taxes, but they're moving forward and living nice lives. 

Then there's the middle class, comprised primarily of suffering but hanging-in-there small businesses and public sector workers.  And if you're too stupid to become one of them, then woe be unto you. And after you retire, you'd be well advised to flee California to keep (gasp!) your hard-earned money. 

And then there's the former industrial/manufacturing middle class, who are now working fast food jobs in a service industry that's anything but helpful for those who want to live sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyles...and a minimum wage increase will too often lead to automation replacing their jobs, not more money. 

But those who stayed awake in economics class, or who lived long enough in California to remember how economics works in different venues and climates, either have been shut down, died, or fled the state. 

And now we have a new gas tax that ... perhaps after the last 4-5 failures ... will actually go to transportation. 

There ARE answers: 

1) Require a minimum of the state general fund, and safeguard all transportation taxes/fees/bonds, to remain invested in transportation/infrastructure.  10% of the general fund ought to do it. 

2) Change the education portion of the state general fund to alter inefficient K-12 funding (the K-12 population is going DOWN...did you know that?) to be diverted and establish 5-10 new UC and Cal State universities over the next ten years.  And pay education employees in a responsible and sustainable manner! 

3) Increase the costs of transportation/infrastructure for Silicon Valley/Beach businesses and developers who are impacting, but NOT paying their fair share, of the costs needed for them to be among those few who are profiting handsomely off the sweat and toil of the rest of our state. 

Until then, we've got the gas tax from those we elected to "lead".  Shut up and pay, right? 

Let's just make sure that our money actually goes to where it's supposed to, with transportation money actually having a net INCREASE as a result of this gas tax. 

Otherwise, we can look forward to our next tax/bond/fee increase because--you know--there's just not enough money for our crumbling roads and infrastructure because we spent our recent gas tax money ... directly or indirectly ... on SOMETHING ELSE. 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)