Congestion Pricing Likely To Be Killed By Prop. 26

Categories: Government, Media
Thanks to Prop. 26, expect this to continue. Also, expect San Francisco to stay broke.
Today's front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle highlights a number of hefty "congestion pricing" fees drivers may soon have to shell out for the privilege of driving into the city, or even between certain neighborhoods.

Put the emphasis on "may." The Chron did note that "The plan may need voters' support" -- and this may end up being the real story. While the paper doesn't mention Proposition 26, the just-passed measure could very well kill congestion pricing -- and any number of fees local governments use to balance the books. "I am very concerned about Prop. 26," Supervisor Sean Elsbernd told SF Weekly.

While Proposition 23 got all of the press, the ramifications of Prop. 26 could be even worse. Prop. 23, bankrolled by oil companies, would have halted the implementation of California's strict emissions law, AB 32. But once polluters realized Prop. 23 was dead in the water, they shifted their monetary support to Prop. 26, which requires fees to be ratified by two-thirds of the voters instead of imposed by cities and the state, which is the status quo.

Sounded great to voters -- but, it warrants mentioning, establishing AB 32 was contingent upon the imposition of many fees upon polluting entities. Government inspectors, say, monitoring a refinery charge the oil company for their service in the same way you are charged for your annual smog check. Now those fees stand to be picked up by the taxpayers; it is uncertain if AB 32 will move forward. On the local level, Elsbernd specifically mentioned congestion pricing as likely just the sort of thing a supermajority of voters will now have to agree to saddle themselves with.

Congestion pricing has been successfully applied elsewhere -- in places where ballot propositions don't forbid it
"Even after the fact, people need to know," Sen. Mark Leno says of Prop. 26. "Who sold this to you, California? Polluters. This shifts the cost of cleaning up corporate messes to the taxpayer."

It remains to be seen if Prop. 26 will be applied retroactively to existing fees or only to future fees -- count on lawyers getting involved, here. In any event, on the local and state level, don't count on reading much more about bag fees, liquor fees, or cigarette fees.

Leno said that the simultaneous passages of Prop. 26 and Prop. 22 -- which forbids state borrowing from local funds -- will likely blow a $1 billion hole in the state's already woeful current budget, and will only grow more expensive in the future. 

Finally, the San Francisco Examiner, did mention the likely impact of Prop. 26 on congestion pricing -- but quoted officials who believe a supermajority of voters will willingly impose complex and expensive restrictions on where and when they can drive. Do two-thirds of us also get to vote on whether we get to buy the Golden Gate Bridge?

Even if congestion pricing is quickly snuffed and out of sight, out of mind, expect the long arm of Prop. 26 to radically alter -- and impoverish -- local government for years to come. This is just the beginning.

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