In the current civic and political culture — in which we have to confront difficult, seemingly intractable problems — denial, anger and bargaining are all too common.
It’s tough to realize our biggest problems don’t have easy answers, but I’m starting to see some hope that voters in California understand reality better than some ideologues think they do.
One good example is growing public sentiment against Proposition 6, a Republican-led effort to slash spending on our roads, bridges and other transportation systems.
At stake is $5.2 billion dollars per year that is even now ramping up projects on California’s streets and highways. Locally, that amounts to more than $15 million per year for county and city streets and roads in San Luis Obispo County alone. More is to be directed to Caltrans projects in our county — a likely total of more than $1 billion to our area over the next decade.
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This money, provided by the passage of SB1 last year, is key to solving our tough road problems: Do you want a better commute between South County and San Luis Obispo? Under SB1’s existing programs, congested Highway 101 and the often-gridlocked alternative, Highway 227, get funding to make traffic flow better again.
Does your family drive Highways 46 or 41 to the Central Valley? Caltrans has received $197 million to make the deadly Highway 41-46 interchange safe. How many people have to die there before we resolve to fix the problem?
As it is, SB1 provides us smoother roads, safer walking routes to schools, a funding source for the long-awaited Bob Jones Trail, better bus service and a host of public improvements that make our lives better and safer. All this goes away if Proposition 6 passes.
The backers of Proposition 6 have promoted a lot of anger and denial, and tried aggressively to deceive the public.
They’ve falsely asserted that current fuel taxes are being diverted to other government uses. That hasn’t happened since 2010, when voters passed Proposition 22.
Proposition 6 foes also claim that SB1 funds will be siphoned to politicians’ other pet projects. That can’t happen, since voters also passed a constitutional prohibition of that with Proposition 69 last June.
These partisans also engage in a bogus form of bargaining: “We want to fix our roads, but not this way.” They assert:
- There’s money else where in the budget for this – by cutting exactly which other programs?
- We could simply defund the high-speed rail project — except those funds come largely from federal grants, cap-and-trade revenue and state bond sources that can’t be used on roads.
- All we need to do is reform Caltrans — sure, government should always seek better efficiency, but any possible savings from this won’t come close to meeting our needs.
- Finally, and most cynically, we have hard-right partisans shedding crocodile tears that funding our road system has hurt low-income families and “average people.”
They proffer a speculative number that SB1 costs average families some $700 per year. Conveniently omitted is that vehicle damage from poor road conditions costs on average $700-$1,400 per year. Better, safer roads are a money-saving deal.
The implication is that removing SB1’s 12-cent per gallon gas tax for roads will save motorists money. This is specious, at best. Is that really going to drop gas prices by 12 cents a gallon?
Or, since fuel prices are market-based, would Big Oil do what it always does and eventually raise prices by at least that much? So the question is whether one wants that 12 cents to go to our roads, or to the bottom line of a big oil company.
Denial, anger and bargaining are most often thought of as stages in dealing with grief — and part of a process of accepting difficult realities.
As we near Election Day, I sense voters are coming to accept that the condition of our roads and transportation systems in California lag far behind where we need them to be. In private conversations, I’ve found that once people get the facts, they know we’re currently on the right track with SB1.
More importantly, a recent poll by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California shows a majority of likely voters throughout California (52%) oppose Proposition 6, and support for it trails at 39% (with 8% undecided).
That’s impressive, given the denial, anger, bargaining — and gross misinformation — provided by proponents in a campaign that’s averse to facts and hews to a stale anti-government ideology.
If you want better roads, vote no on Proposition 6.
Bruce Gibson represents District 2 on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and sits on the board of the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments.