Several billion dollars a year in incentives for new electric cars and new charging stations could go down if the proposed “Clean Cars and Clean Air” law qualifies for the ballot and gets voters’ thumbs up.
The proposal, which would also raise hundreds of millions for wildfire prevention measures, would generate money in one of two ways: increase taxes on personal income by more than $2 million or increase taxes on company net income of more than $20 million.
Backers—which so far include Lyft, the IBEW Electricians Association and California Environmental Voters—qualified both versions for the signature pool needed for the November vote. Those backers are expected to decide by the end of the month which approach they will take, taxing personal or corporate income.
The action is aimed at accelerating the state’s reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, improving southern California’s worst air pollution and mitigating the growing threat of wildfires. It is specifically designed to attract low-income drivers to zero-emissions vehicles.
While the country has been a world leader in tackling climate change, proponents say the leadership position is waning while air quality remains a perennial problem. Transportation accounts for half of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of smog, which is increasingly exacerbated by wildfires.
“We need to protect the health of Californians,” said Fresh Air advocate Bill McGavern, who helped write the ballot proposal. “California needs to step up to protect itself. The state is doing a lot to reduce harmful emissions, but the budget, even with the governor sticking to his commitment, is insufficient to address these issues.”
John Kopal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, responded by saying Californians are already adequately taxed.
“We already have some of the highest taxes in the country,” Kopal said. “A lot of air pollution in Southern California could be eliminated by spending transportation dollars on highway improvements to reduce traffic jams.
“If these proposals are really priorities, they should be paid for from the current public fund.”
Neither the California Chamber of Commerce nor the Orange County Business Council has taken a formal position on the proposal yet, but the council seemed particularly concerned about the proposed corporate tax increase.
“During times of economic recovery such as now, tax increases targeted at business are crippling our economic growth and job creation capabilities,” a statement from the council said in response to a Southern California News Group query about the proposed initiative. “Instead of putting the private sector at a competitive disadvantage, we must promote environmental protection and technological innovations by adopting a strong business climate to maintain our high quality of life.”
Eligibility to vote
Before supporters can finish sharpening their refutation of critics, they must clear another big hurdle: raise the more than $2 million needed to collect the 623,000 signatures needed by July 11.
They are off to a strong start, given the support of three diverse entities with political funding.
Lyft’s participation comes as ride-sharing services try to meet the state’s requirement to move to zero-GHG vehicles by 2030. The proposed initiative will help ensure there is a pool of clean car owners available to work in ride-sharing jobs.
The IBEW consortium can take advantage of more functions for the installation of charging stations. California Environmental Voters, formerly the California Conservation Voters League, is a veteran political group with experience in mobilizing resources from other environmental groups.
Additionally, firefighter union representatives have participated in discussions about the measure and may also join the effort.
“My expectation is that the organizations that invest in this will grow and the resources will be available to get this on the ballot,” said California Environmental Director Laura DeHaan. While her group has not yet endorsed this measure, she was involved in crafting the initiative.
“We need to change the rules of the game to address these air quality issues,” DeHaan said. “This polling scale is the kind of political innovation that can help us reach the bold goals set by the state.”
The state’s biggest clean car goal is to end the sale of new gas cars, and only allow zero-emission passenger cars to be sold by 2035.
money inside and money
The personal income tax version of the measure would raise the tax by 1.75% on income over $2 million, and generate an estimated $3 billion to $4.5 billion annually. The corporate tax version will increase the tax by 2.45% on net income over $20 million, which is between $3.5 billion and $5.5 billion a year.
The two versions will distribute the receipts identically: 45% for rebates and other incentives for zero-emission vehicle purchases, 35% for charging stations, and 20% for wildfire prevention and suppression, prioritizing hiring and training firefighters.
Spending in each of the three categories is then broken down by mandatory funding amounts, with incentive categories and charging station categories containing items designed to get low-income drivers into zero-emissions vehicles.
For example, half of the money earmarked for car discounts and other incentives “will primarily benefit people who live in low-income and disadvantaged communities.”
“Electric vehicles remain expensive for many Californians who are already dealing with the high cost of living in this state,” says the proposed initiative. “Current consumer financial assistance has not been sufficient for low- and middle-income California families or many organizations to be able to purchase or rent an electric vehicle.”
For charging stations, at least 20% of these funds will go to help with connections in multi-family dwellings, 10% for single-family homes, 10% for express fueling stations for passenger cars, and 10% for medium and heavy vehicles. At least half of the infrastructure money will go to low-income families and communities.
The goal, according to the initiative, is to make refueling a zero-emissions vehicle “more convenient and easier than refueling a diesel or gasoline vehicle for all Californians no matter where they live or work.”