Poll: California voters oppose gas tax hike

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Sixty-three percent of California voters oppose a plan to increase state gas taxes to help pay for transportation projects as federal infrastructure funding has dried up, according to a new poll that was released on Tuesday. 

California state lawmakers are considering legislation that would increase the state’s approximately 42-cents-per-gallon gas tax by 12 cents. 

The poll, which was conducted by University of California Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS), found 63 percent of voters in the Golden State would oppose such an increase in the state's gas tax. 

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"A proposal pending in the Legislature would raise both the gas tax and vehicle registration fees to pay for road improvements, but the IGS poll found that overwhelming majorities of Republicans and independents oppose such increases, while Democrats narrowly favor the gas tax increase but oppose higher registration fees," the group said. 

"Overall, the survey found that respondents opposed a gas tax increase 63-37 percent, and higher vehicle registration fees 74-26 percent," the statement about the poll continued. 

The new California fuel levy, which would be the state's first increase since 1994, would be collected on top of an 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax that is charged to all drivers in the nation to fill the federal government’s transportation funding coffers. 

The American Petroleum Institute says the gas tax increase will bring the total amount of money that drivers in California are charged at the pump to more than 72 cents per gallon.

The state is the latest to consider increasing its gas tax, as federal transportation funding has dried up in recent years. 

Lawmakers in Congress are currently facing an Oct. 29 deadline for the expiration of federal transportation funding, and they are struggling to come up with a way to pay for a long-term extension of the measure after passing a patch in July that lasts only three months. 

Transportation advocates in Washington have pointed to the willingness of states such as California to raise their own gas tax as evidence that a national hike would be politically palatable this year.

A separate poll released earlier this week by a California-based transportation institute found that 71 percent of national voters would support a 10-cent gas tax hike if they could be assured the money would be used to "improve road maintenance." 

Conservative groups in Washington have made it clear that they would consider an increase in the federal fuel levy a tax increase, however.

The national gas tax has been the traditional source of transportation funding since its inception in the 1930s. But the tax has not been increased since 1993, and improvements in auto fuel efficiency have sapped its purchasing power. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually at its current rate. 

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the $16 billion per year gap, but transportation advocates have said the resulting temporary funding measures are preventing states from completing large construction projects.