The Coast News Group
The proposed tax would help pay for SANDAG's $160 billion 5 Big Moves proposal. File photo
The proposed tax would help pay for SANDAG's $160 billion 5 Big Moves proposal. File photo

SANDAG board to consider per-mile road usage tax to fund transit projects

REGION — The San Diego Association of Governments board will meet virtually today to discuss a four-cent-per-mile tax proposal that could impact every driver in San Diego County by 2030.

The proposed tax — and two half-cent regional sales taxes scheduled for 2022 and 2028 — would help pay for SANDAG’s 5 Big Moves, the agency’s 30-year, $160 billion proposal that could include no-cost public transit and a 200-mile, $43 billion regional rail network.

SANDAG, San Diego County’s regional transportation planning agency, received more than 1,400 comments on the draft 2021 Regional Plan. Some were positive but many were critical of the agency’s proposed tax increases.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond said the proposal was intended to “force everyone onto trolleys and buses” by pricing people out of their cars.

“This proposal should never see the light of day,” Desmond said. “San Diegans already pay some of the highest prices to drive in the country. From the current gas taxes to a vehicle registration tax, San Diegans feel the effects, in their wallets, every day.

“Adding another tax, to fund public transportation, is a slap in the face,” he said. “I will not support any new taxes or fees upon San Diegans until the promised projects are completed.”

California has been testing charging around 2 cents per mile in pilot programs but has run into several issues. The state has experienced difficulty in how to report the by-mile-usage and if miles should count when out of state.

It is unclear how SANDAG will circumvent that issue, but the agency does claim to want to wait until some mass transit projects are completed.

The agency intends “to align with the latest planning efforts of the state to allow for adequate time to study and pilot pricing strategies, and to ensure that prior to implementing pricing strategies, there are adequate and available alternatives to the private automobile in place,” a SANDAG document on the issue reads.

The proposed mileage tax is intended to supplement and eventually replace gas taxes, which have dropped considerably as gas mileage has increased and hybrid and electric cars ownership has grown exponentially in recent years.

According to a 2020 report by the think tank Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, between 1993 and 2020, average fuel efficiency improved by around 26%. That translates to drivers on average traveling an extra 75 miles per tank.

“Those 75 extra miles of driving are generating wear and tear on the nation’s roads, without requiring any offsetting gas tax payment to cover the cost,” the report found.

SANDAG has estimated the plan could raise more than $34 billion through 2050, but the agency’s chief economist, Ray Major, said the final figures would change once the scope was narrowed to implementation of the proposal in 2030.

SANDAG’s special board meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. and can be viewed at