SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Association of Governments’ Board of Directors today voted 15-4 to remove any mention of a controversial Regional Road User Charge — sometimes referred to as a mileage tax — from its 2025 Regional Plan.
San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones led the charge to excise the tax, leading a protest outside SANDAG’s office Friday morning before the board meeting.
“This policy threatened the core principles of American freedom and imposed a disproportionate burden on the majority of our region’s residents,” said El Cajon Mayor Bills Wells, also a vocal opponent to the tax. “Today, we proudly announce a committed and unified stance to eliminate this regressive tax.
“The notion of being tracked and taxed for every mile one drives is fundamentally contrary to the values that define our great nation. San Diego has long stood as a beacon of individual liberty and personal choice, and the mileage tax undermines these principles at their core.”
In December 2021, SANDAG approved the 2021 Regional Transportation Plan with the mileage tax in place, but staff was directed to return with a new proposal without it, leaving doubts about how the agency would fund the $165 billion plan.
Last August, the California Air Resources Board approved the Regional Transportation Plan with the contentious road user charge in place as an integral funding mechanism, as previously reported by The Coast News. Officials with SANDAG, the only metropolitan planning agency in the state with a local road-user charge, were thrilled the plan won the state air quality agency’s approval.
Hassan Ikhrata, CEO of SANDAG, informed the California Air Resources Board that the per-mile charge would remain in the plan despite the SANDAG board twice directing staff to return a plan without it.
“The Road Usage Charge remains in the 2021 Regional Plan, and the 2021 Regional Plan remains a foundation for all future plans,” Ikhrata said in a response letter to CARB. “In short, we are committed to implementing our plan, which is used as an example for the nation on how to develop a transportation system to move people and goods while reducing GHG and addressing social equity in a meaningful way.”
State air quality agency officials asked SANDAG in a response letter how the planning agency plans to address the seemingly opposing actions — how will it implement the per-mile charge while working on removing it as directed by the board?
“…We still have several fundamental questions regarding how SANDAG intends to execute the Board’s direction to update the plan (without the road-user charge) and the extent to which SANDAG will move forward with the (road-user charge) as currently articulated.”
In an Aug. 19 letter, CARB officials also asked Ikhrata, “Please describe how, if at all, the revenue estimates in the (Regional Transportation Plan) are expected to change as a result of the board direction (to remove the road user charge).”
Ikhrata responded by saying the “board action does not change the revenue estimates in the 2021 Regional Plan because the (road-user charge) was not removed from the approved plan.”
A four-cents-per-mile road usage tax proposal and two half-cent regional sales taxes proposed for 2022 and 2028 were some key funding strategies SANDAG leadership proposed. SANDAG estimated the road usage tax could raise more than $34 billion through 2050, but the agency’s chief economist, Ray Major, said the final figures would have changed once the scope was narrowed to implementation of the proposal in 2030.
However, San Diego County Supervisor Chairwoman Nora Vargas said much of the concern came from misinformation.
“The previous SANDAG Board directed an amendment to remove the (Road User Charge) from the regional plan,” Vargas wrote in a statement. “SANDAG is working on this and will submit the amendment to the state. The state will make the final decision. To be clear, no government agency can implement a tax that would impact our region without voter approval.”
Last September, SANDAG’s Board of Directors voted to exclude it from SANDAG’s Regional Transportation plan, following several Democratic lawmakers making a last-minute turn against the proposal.
SANDAG’s Executive Director, Hasan Ikhrata, proceeded with a plan that retained the charge. Ikhrata has since announced his departure from the regional planning agency, effective Dec. 29.
County Supervisor Jim Desmond has frequently criticized SANDAG’s regional transportation plan, saying the organization “needs a plan we can all buy into regionally, instead of doom and gloom, and mileage taxes.”
The board comprises representatives from the 18 municipalities in the county and the county at large.