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Interview And Story: Fresno Drivers, Truckers Pan Road Taxes, Fees

Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio
Abraham Baec trucks cars across the state. He doesn't think another tax on diesel will fix California roads.

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders have a huge challenge this week: Convince all but one Democrat in the California Legislature to vote for new fuel tax increases and vehicle fees to repair the state's crumbling roads and highways, an incredibly unpopular vote.

To tell us more about the deal Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler joined KVPR's Ezra David Romero on Valley Edition. Take a listen to the interview below.

Listen to the interview here.

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
The Governor's plan would add a 20 cent per gallon tax on diesel.

Drivers in Fresno are expressing a largely negative view about the tax. Among them is truck driver Abraham Baec.

He fills the 240-gallon tank on his rig with about $600 worth of diesel. He’s moving a load of new cars from San Diego to the Bay Area and he doesn’t think a 20 cents per gallon tax should be placed on diesel under the Governor's plan to fix roads.

“I’m not agreeing with that because [of] many taxes all the time, Baec says. "They fix roads but they’re still bad. California roads are bad.”

Big rig driver Gerald Cornell moves produce for a major trucking company. While pumping diesel, he says he damaged his truck by driving bumpy roads from Southern California to the Bay Area. He says he is skeptical about how taxes on fuel are currently spent.

"You come off the 5 or the Grapevine, if you go up 580 through Pleasanton, the roads are so terrible that it bounces us all over the road," Cornell says.

When the roads aren't so bumpy is when Cornell says he'll believe the state is using funds correctly.

"We're right now paying up to 36 cents per gallon in California. California tax and New York are one of the highest in the nation," Cornell says. " Until they start fixing the roads and start making rest areas for us truck drivers, I don't think it's going to fly."

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Truck drivers like Gerald Cornell do not think taising taxes on diesel is a good idea.

Several other truck drivers agree and so did people filling up at a gas station nearby. That’s because the deal also would raise the gasoline excise tax 12 cents a gallon and would add a fee for all vehicles ranging from $25 to $175 a year. 

Retired veteran Candelario Ybarbo is pumping about $20 dollars’ worth of gas into his SUV at an AMPM near the truck stop. He doesn’t think state taxpayers should be responsible for paying the taxes or fees.

“Infrastructure? Let the federal government take care of it," Ybarbo says. "Why do we got to pay for it. I feel they got other ways to pay for the roads. Donald Trump’s already … He wants to do that himself.”

Ybarbo also says he thinks funds spent on things like high-speed rail could be used to help reinforce California's aging roads.

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Candelario Ybarbo says there are other ways to fix California roads.

Lisa Rivas of Fresno is also at the same AMPM spending about $30 to fill up her sedan. She says she sees neither the gas tax nor the annual vehicle fee as the right way to address road infrastructure. She says other state taxpayer funds could be used instead.

“They are spending, I don’t know, how many of thousands to move the freeway just a few feet over so that high-speed rail can be built,” Rivas says.

Rivas recalls a time when gas was over $4 a few years ago and fears those days might return with the additional fees.

“That was awful," Rivas says. "This might be another step [for] us getting back to that.”

A vote on the funding package will need at least two-thirds support. It’s expected to come up Thursday.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.