Tom Fulks

SLO County and its roads deserve to be awesome again. Reject Proposition 6

Tom Fulks
Tom Fulks

I remember how fresh and new everything seemed the day I arrived in San Luis Obispo County more than four decades ago.

The smooth roads seemed to sparkle in the sunlight. The bridges seemed to glisten.

Cars and trucks flowed over fresh concrete in crisply painted lanes. We seemingly were energized with a powerful sense of freedom.

There was no “rush hour.” I remember blowing through a new stop sign at Spyglass Drive and Shell Beach Road for months before finally realizing it was there.

The new dorms at Cal Poly radiated confidence and vigor, giving off something like that “new-car smell.”

I was attracted to Cal Poly by its curriculum and learn-by-doing philosophy — and its proximity to good surfing spots. My dad was attracted to the $280 per year tuition.

Lopez Dam and Lake looked as if they’d been recently constructed by craftspeople who took pride in their work.

Pride — that was the sense I got back then. Everyone took pride in this place. They spent the money necessary to make it great and keep it great, to make us great and keep us great.

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The repair of Oak Park Road in Arroyo Grande is one of many projects in San Luis Obispo County funded by the statewide gas tax threatened with repeal. Courtesy Photo

The entire state had been on a building tear, investing in dams, roads, bridges, schools, community colleges and universities that were affordable to working families. Our county was no different.

California was amazing then, a model for the world as a place that did Big Things, a place that invested in its people, where anything was possible if you spent wisely, played by the rules and worked hard. The sky was the limit.

We were the envy of the world: the best businesses, best universities, best environment, best beaches, best lifestyle, the best opportunities toward a brilliant future any state in America could offer.

Then, in 1978, came Proposition 13. Everything froze in place. A majority of voters decided they’d paid enough in property taxes. So no more affordable higher education. No more infrastructure investment. No more building. No more Big Things.

Selfishness had replaced awesomeness. Greed had replaced greatness. Proposition 13 ushered in the reactionary conservative movement of Howard Jarvis, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, et al.: “It’s about me, not we. Government is evil. Starve it. Drown it in a tub.”

As governor in 1978, Jerry Brown opposed Proposition 13 — until voters adopted it. Then he embraced it like a long-lost twin, making it part of his “less is more” credo.

Today our roads, bridges, water systems, universities — the essentials of civilized society — are pretty much what was put here before Prop. 13. Since then, it seemed hardly anyone wanted to pay to maintain even that.

Poll after poll shows Californians’ chief quality-of-life complaints are about roads, highways and traffic congestion. Our roads are ranked as some of the worst in the country.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that driving California roads costs each driver on average $844 per year in vehicle repairs.

The Gov. Brown of today has atoned for his embrace of Prop. 13. A year ago, he heavily lobbied the Legislature to pass SB1, a desperately needed tax increase of 12 cents per gallon of gasoline and 20 cents per gallon of diesel. California hadn’t raised the gas tax since 1990.

Brown wants us to be awesome again, to sparkle again.

Senate Bill 1 is a start, as it provides some $52 billion over the next decade, constitutionally guaranteed to ease congestion and fix our roads, which are in retched condition.

How many people have to die on Highway 46 east before that reality sinks in?

That’s why it’s so important to understand how destructive Proposition 6 on the November ballot is: It would repeal SB1, repeal our ability to rebuild our transportation infrastructure.

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Prop. 6 is on the ballot for purely political reasons, as opposed to what’s good for the people of this great state.

Republicans in the Legislature – flush with victory after leading a recall campaign against state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) over his gas tax vote – are using the gas tax as a rallying cry to increase Republican voter turnout in November — and possibly save some U.S. House Republican seats in the process.

Proposition 6 does nothing to force oil companies to lower the price of gasoline in California. That’s why it’s opposed by a wide coalition of public safety, business, labor, and local governments.

San Luis Obispo County deserves to be awesome again.

That’s why voters should reject Proposition 6 for the cynical political ploy it is.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.