Opinion: Californians pay high gas prices and high gas taxes yet still drive on bad highways

Californians pay high gas prices and high gas taxes yet still drive on bad highways

view of freeway through chainlink on overpass

Traffic on Highway 50 in Sacramento on June 30, 2022. [Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters]

Stay up-to-date with free briefings on topics that matter to all Californians. Subscribe to CalMatters today for nonprofit news in your inbox.

To state the obvious, California motorists are experiencing one of the state’s periodic spikes in gasoline prices.

California’s average price for regular grade gas has again topped $5 a gallon, according to the most recent American Automobile Association report. It’s more than $6 in some areas. The average is up about 20 cents from a year ago and is about $1.50 higher than the national figure.

I can attest to the differential, having spent part of March driving some 3,000 miles through four western states, mostly to visit national parks, and buying about 200 gallons of fuel along the way. All of my fill-ups were under $3.50 a gallon, with the lowest price being $2.99 in Wyoming.

The difference between California prices and those in other states raises, for the umpteenth time, is the question of why it exists.

A couple of years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom spent months vilifying oil companies as price-gouging enemies of the people and demanded that the Legislature punish them with taxes on excess profits. He couldn’t win approval the tax proposal, switched to seeking civil penalties, and ultimately had to settle for relatively toothless legislation directing the state Energy Commission to gather data, establish a reasonable profit level and assess penalties for exceeding it.

“Finally, we’re in a position to look our constituents in the eye and say we now have a better understanding of why you’re being taken advantage of,” Newsom said a year ago as he signed the bill. “There’s a new sheriff in town in California, where we brought Big Oil to their knees. And I’m proud of this state.”

We have heard virtually nothing from officialdom about gas prices since, and Newsom apparently didn’t bring Big Oil to its knees.

The vast majority of the differential in gas prices between California and other states can be attributed to differing policies.

Severin Borenstein, a UC Berkeley economist regarded as the state’s leading expert on the issue, parsed the differential in a 2023 paper, pointing out that California’s direct and indirect taxes on fuel amount to nearly $1 per gallon – 70 cents higher than the national average in such taxes – and the state’s unique fuel blend to battle smog adds another dime.

That left what he calls the “mystery gasoline surcharge,” or MGS, of about 43 cents a gallon that cannot be directly attributed to oil prices or California’s taxes and other official factors. It may be a mystery, but at least some of it can be logically attributed to the relatively high costs of doing any kind of business in California – rents, electricity and other utilities, wages and regulatory overhead, for example.

Even if the MGS could be eliminated from the equation, California’s gas prices would still be at least $1 higher than those in other states.

This month’s sojourn through other western states underscored another aspect of the gas-price conundrum. Despite paying direct and indirect taxes on fuel that are three times the national average, California’s motorists are driving on highways that are subpar vis-à-vis those in other states.

Driving back into California from other states can be a jarring experience, and data from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics back up that observation. As of 2020, California had the fourth-worst roadway conditions of any state with just 67% of its 26,406 miles of pavement in “acceptable” condition.

The national average was 81%, and all four states I visited had much higher scores than California: Wyoming 94.3%, Nevada 85.7%, Utah 80% and Colorado 78.1%.

We are paying the most in gas taxes and getting almost the least in roadway quality.

Facebooktwitterpinterestmail

Join the discussion! For rules visit: https://kymkemp.com/commenting-rules

Comments system how-to: https://wpdiscuz.com/community/postid/10599/

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

62 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mr. Clark
Member
Mr. Clark
25 days ago

Not only high price and TAX, But also a fuel that is of poor quality for efficient combustion and air quality. Sure its octane rating it the same but you get less MPG with California winter gas. So you burn more fuel and generate more pollution to go just as far as gas form Oregon.

Mr. Clark
Member
Mr. Clark
25 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Clark

Our vehicle registration is also 10 time the national average.

Permanently on Monitoring
Guest
Permanently on Monitoring
25 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Clark

It should cost $10,000/year to register a 4 ton Diesel Dually…

Last edited 25 days ago
jimmy2shoes
Guest
jimmy2shoes
25 days ago

That 4 ton diesel dually is most likely used to tow your construction materials around and tow cattle trailers (your food supply). Don’t complain when the price of goods goes up…

Permanently on Monitoring
Guest
Permanently on Monitoring
25 days ago
Reply to  jimmy2shoes

Well, a diesel dually will actually out handle a 911S up to about 90…

Tech bros from Atherton traded in their Teslas for diesel duallies long ago…

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
23 days ago
Reply to  jimmy2shoes

Well. Let’s be honest, most are used for looking cool.
Real trucks used for work are actually pretty expensive to keep registered, POM has no idea what they’re talking about.
The truth is that diesel regulations aimed to hit particulates have made diesels less fuel efficient, they’ve increased displacement to offset the lack of efficiency, and no they burn more fuel, and release more CO2. Plus you must run expensive newer equipment. THAT is what is making transport so expensive already.
Asshats rolling coal are ruining things for a huge sector of the aftermarket performance/restoration parts market. Cheats designed to blow smoke on diesels at urban stop lights are specifically named by EPA lawyers going after ALL aftermarket hotrod parts.

Humboldt County Line
Guest
Humboldt County Line
22 days ago

I think what he may be referring to is the s corp tax loophole for farm implements. If you ever notice a lot of people who work in white collar professions (accountant, doctor, lawyer) drive massive trucks it’s because if you are a partner in the firm you work for, and you form a personal corporation to own your shares, then you qualify for a tax incentive that allows you to defer income taxes on the price of a vehicle purchase so long as the vehicle weighs over 6k lbs.

Bozo
Guest
Bozo
25 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Clark

State Government >>> Making life tough for the working person.
What our government wants… (Photo of North Korea)

105251749-MEHDPRK_Kaesong_29a
North westCertain license plate out of thousands c
Guest
North westCertain license plate out of thousands c
25 days ago
Reply to  Bozo

Most roads and highways set on flat ground. Most of our highways are an active slide area headed to the river, hence high maintenance.
Got it? Good!

Bozo
Guest
Bozo
25 days ago

Hmmm… what did I say about ‘active slides’ and ‘flat ground’. I know this area, probably better than you. Seems like you just attack anyway.

DMV is making life difficult for the working people.
Cal Fish and Wildlife is making life difficult for the working people.
CARB is making life difficult for the working people.
Sacramento is making life difficult for the working people.

Lawmakers want us to go to North Korean lifestyle. North Korea is the ultimate leader in environmental concerns. Entire county goes dark after sundown.
Citizens live in barracks. Eat cabbage for breakfast. Bussed out the the fields. Grow cabbage. Attend Political Meetings. Then dinner cabbage. Sleep.
Then do it again !
North Korea/South Korea at night.

KoreanPeninsula_Night_18Jan2021_VIIRS
North westCertain license plate out of thousands c
Guest
North westCertain license plate out of thousands c
25 days ago
Reply to  Bozo

Blah fucking blah. Do you ever have anything intelligent to say?
Pay attention to what’s happening Simply repeating blah blah blah does not cut it.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
25 days ago

I agree with bozo on this one. Dems would do well to reign in bureaucratic excess. You can have good effective regulation on merits rather than excessive fees and penalties borne by smaller more defenseless operators. Trying to do the right thing the wrong way is counter productive in the long run.

Bozo
Guest
Bozo
24 days ago

Well, you’ve got a couple common ‘High School Debate Club Tactics’ down pretty well.

Accuse the other person of saying something they didn’t.
>”Most roads and highways set on flat ground. Most of our highways are an active slide area headed to the river, hence high maintenance.
Got it? Good!”

Denigration.
[edit]

Richard
Guest
Richard
24 days ago

Eat your cabbage and shut up.

Lost Croat OutburstD
Member
Lost Croat Outburst
25 days ago
Reply to  Bozo

The DFW computer system is labyrinthine and punitive, designed to impede communication and compliance. A nightmare. Tried to report on my deer tags and that was screwy.

Humboldt10
Guest
Humboldt10
23 days ago

California highways don’t need more maintenance than many other states: Colorado and other mountain states and states with lots of snow and ice. Yet our gas taxes are ridiculous and the roads poor. The high prices are caused by government policies including having our own gas formula separate from all other states.

Lost Croat OutburstD
Member
Lost Croat Outburst
25 days ago
Reply to  Bozo

If you like North Korea, you like China, Russia, Ukraine and other autocracies so your political choice is logically Donald John Trump and the Modern Republican Party: they win every time or it’s a fraud.

GrumpyOldGuyD
Member
25 days ago

Isn’t Biden tossing out billions of dollars like parade candy, to Ukraine…..?

Tangled Massocells
Guest
Tangled Massocells
25 days ago

Sez the person whining about California govt. Trump is nowhere to be found in California except in your head

Country Joe
Member
24 days ago

No reason for Trump to waste his time in Mexifornia.

Country Joe
Member
24 days ago
Reply to  Bozo

OBidens dream.

Lone Ranger
Guest
Lone Ranger
25 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Clark

No worries, fuel usage is down. State gonna be suffering bad before this recession is over.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
23 days ago
Reply to  Lone Ranger

Let me see the data! I bet we’re burning more than ever.
1) electric cars still need charging, a good portion is still from fossil fuels.
2) I bet for every Tesla sold in CA there’s a GMC suburban, or Ford Expedition sold.
3) air quality fixes patched together over time mean more fuel burnt for commercial transportation.
4) no substantial alternative to driving for intra state travel and commuting; more cars on the road than ever.

Mr. Clark
Member
Mr. Clark
25 days ago

3,000 miles on 200 gallons? My Hemi Ram get 23mpg on flat highway.
Did you notice better mpg with other states gas?

Last edited 25 days ago
Friday
Member
Friday
25 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Clark

Yeh, 200 gallons for 3,000 miles is only 15 mpg. Not only was he driving a gas guzzler, he was driving mostly on city streets rather than highways. Or, maybe he exaggerated, and cherry-picked his data, to support his agenda.
This is a very, very complicated subject – not amenable to analysis by driving cross-country. Some states spend more per lane-mile, and have worse roads.
Per annual reports, California is in 45th place in road quality, and 44th place in $ spent per lane-mile. Kinda makes sense, but New Mexico’s road quality puts it in 27th place, while they are the 7th highest spender per lane-mile. West Virginia is the highest spender per lane mile, but their highways are in 30th place, quality-wise.
Weird, and very complicated.

Outside Looking In
Guest
Outside Looking In
25 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Clark

I get better mileage with Oregon gas (’94 pickup, manual transmission), but the waterheads who pump the gas there sometimes forget to replace my gas cap.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
25 days ago

Ok let’s bring up the old Ukiah Plank road. What’s up with 101 in Ukiah!? It’s one of the only concrete slabs sections I ever drive on. Each slab is off level. It’s bad in a passenger car, but absolutely destructive to commercial trucks. There’s almost always a little trailer on the side with busted springs or welds. You’ll notice most people cruise in the passing lane through there as it’s a little smoother than the slow lane. Next time you drive through, check out the suspensions going wild on vehicles to your right in the slow lane of the ‘Ol Plank Road!

local observer
Guest
local observer
25 days ago

each industry (concrete and asphalt) gets equal state road surface opportunity. it was a union fight a long time ago and that was the outcome.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
25 days ago
Reply to  local observer

Do they pre cast each section off site?! Holy smokes! Are they even twenty foot long? They set up an amazing resonance on a short wheelbase steel spring tractor. Heaven help you if you’re bobtailing!
One day maybe somebody will figure out a way to pour smooth continuous shapes out of concrete, right!

Griffon
Guest
Griffon
25 days ago

Yep, that section has sucked for many years.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
25 days ago
Reply to  Griffon

And if that wasn’t enough, all of a sudden the only music on the radio is Indiana-safe honky pop, endless tracks of public radio local mandolin bluegrass, and a couple Banda border blasters.

William
Guest
William
24 days ago

There are signs in ukiah on 101 that say thru traffic use left lane.
The concrete slabs are the worse. Was so happy when sonoma county fixed theirs.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
23 days ago
Reply to  William

Only Northbound. I thought I was the ONLY person to ever read those thru Ukiah, and Fortuna!

Big Rick
Guest
Big Rick
25 days ago

Our government is too busy pandering to fully retarded shit. That’s why they can’t fix our fucking roads.

Too busy worrying about what pronouns to use and whatever the fuck we do with our genitalia.

This whole fucking country is lost to degeneracy. It’s like Weimar Germany in the 1920s.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
25 days ago
Reply to  Big Rick

Bing Bing Bing! ☝️Ricardo Gigante! first one to focus on the GENITALIA!
How could we have missed the connection?

Antichrist
Guest
Antichrist
25 days ago

If you want the roads fixed file tort claims against the responsible agency for those section of roads that cause you cars and trucks undo damage do to their failing conditions , the agencies will prioritize repairing the roads that cost them the most not to fix , it really is that simple

Mountain Man
Guest
Mountain Man
25 days ago
Reply to  Antichrist

Wait a minute Newsome said they were fixing all this . Gas went up 20 cents last couple weeks , nice work .

Mountain Man
Guest
Mountain Man
25 days ago

Good thing we have better pedestrian and bicycle access , can’t afford gas , also they were supposed to fix high auto insurance and home insurance, they need to tax fast food companies, oh wait 8 dollar McDonald’s , nope keep them need to slim down anyway

Permanently on Monitoring
Guest
Permanently on Monitoring
25 days ago
Reply to  Mountain Man

Yes, I can no longer afford McDonald’s, and their food makes me very gassy anyway…

Easy choice!

Go to In&Out, order your fries “Light Well-Done”, and it’s better than McDoo’s…

Mountain Man
Guest
Mountain Man
25 days ago

Blue Lake Casino gives 25 cents off for paying cash on already lower price

Country Joe
Member
24 days ago

We prefer Burger King.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
23 days ago

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas.
In&out always has twenty cars lined up idling. In &out burger has that unique flavor of every airport; when I tried a burger there, I closed my eyes, and was transported to every fuckin strip mall in the USA.🇺🇲🦅💨

Permanently on Monitoring
Guest
Permanently on Monitoring
25 days ago

Buy your gas on the Res, and you will pay less while getting more MPG…

Tribal Gas is trucked in from outside CA, and does not have Summer and Winter formulation…

I like Uncle Buddy’s in Middletown!

COSTCO charges as much as any other station, these days…

California roads are a disgrace, while we waste money on the “homeless”
and feeding Naloxone to the suicidal…

Homeless are .005 of the population, and they mostly don’t buy gas…

Get rid of your 4X4, don’t buy a vehicle that gets less than 30 MPG, and shut up about it, because gas is $10 or more in the UK, Europe and elsewhere…

We got oil, but California roads suck the tires off your car because they are so rough from idiots driving on the highway with Terra Tires…

How much for those tires that stick out the wheel-wells?

Idiots…

Lost Croat OutburstD
Member
Lost Croat Outburst
25 days ago

If you live on a dirt road, two-wheel drive is not only less safe and efficient, but it churns up the mud more than a 4×4.

Permanently on Monitoring
Guest
Permanently on Monitoring
25 days ago

That’s a wide stretch from a true statement, as an Acura RL will go up a muddy hill in Monument Valley, and never turn up a rock…

Try the TLX with the SH-AWD, and buy a hell of less gas…

Or move to beautiful Lake County, where they throw out “hot patch” every year or five, and there’s basically a dirt road anyway, from Lakeport to my house, and I have never owned a pickup…

A VW Coupe from 1963 will go anywhere, including with a rusted out floor and no brakes…

I once drove up Bell Springs Cow Path, in my old FWD Station Wagon, in the pouring rain, with about 4″ ground clearance and Z Rated Tires, and got through just fine, but I learned to drive on a ranch in the 60’s, so IMO, only kooks drive jack-up 4×4’s, or guys trying to impress some woman…

Last edited 25 days ago
Jason
Guest
Jason
25 days ago

CA needs republican leadership so democrats feel comfortable acknowledging the dysfunction that plagues this state

Lost Croat OutburstD
Member
Lost Croat Outburst
25 days ago
Reply to  Jason

Yeah, Republican leadership like we see nationally? Jan. 6 was a regular tourist day? Just tell the 6th Grade class from Bakersfield to pee in the hallway or dump in Pelosi’s office if the restroom is full. And hang Mike Pence. Uh huh. Right. “Legal weed” has been a disaster and DFW is messed up, so you have a point there.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
25 days ago

I vote Democrat. I think you are missing Jason’s point.
If I want to avoid the anarcho-dipshit grifter agenda, we need democrats to keep check on how we actually institute policies and laws. We vote in general terms, then hand the reigns to bureaucracies. They’re not even “entrenched”. actually they run stables of first year lawyers, and are stepping stone positions for soon-to-be jaded scientists, and technocrats.
Poorly coordinated web based access, and penalties through an administrative law process (guilty until proven innocent) on top of everything else does create a difficult small business environment. For both lefties, and anarco- mail-ordersteak-golfcheater cultists.
Democrat politicians beware.

Al L Ivesmatr
Guest
Al L Ivesmatr
25 days ago

Yikes. TDS? It reminds me of that Lynyrd Skynrd original record album with the whole band posing while on fire. Yeah, major bummer……

Country Joe
Member
24 days ago

It’s Trump in 2024.

GrumpyOldGuyD
Member
25 days ago

5th largest world economy…..LOL.

Country Joe
Member
24 days ago

Our tax money is stolen by politicians and most maintenance is deferred. Graft and corruption rule in Sacramento.

Permanently on Monitoring
Guest
Permanently on Monitoring
24 days ago
Reply to  Country Joe

Well, think about this:

Retired people paid 50 BILLION Dollars in Income Taxes last year…

If you work hard and save, and end up with income streams like savings accounts, rental property and an IRA, decent Social Security Benefits and maybe your wife gets a little Pension from the PERS, the Government will want 20% of anything you make over about $80,000, and there is no way you can shelter it!

This is simply immoral, and I am tired of paying for all the lame-o’s I worked to help my whole life, with my savings interest…

So don’t ask me to “buy my berries” in the parking lot of the Home Depot, and don’t ask me for a handout so you can buy a “bus ticket”, and pave yer own goddamn road, please…

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
24 days ago

Well, it is income, and no expenses. However. Your tax rates should be well below corporate rates. A Jeff Bezos can afford to spend a greater portion of his wealth on roads, and still have plenty to live like an emperor.
Retirees now enjoyed greater spending power throughout your careers than younger people today. That means it was easier to save or invest. Trouble is, I’m sure your retirement income doesn’t track with crazy inflation! Watch out though, those berries might be a better deal than the “Healthcare marketplace”. Insurance or not, the goal is to move all your savings to executive compensation!

Permanently on Monitoring
Guest
Permanently on Monitoring
24 days ago

I delivered newspapers, did farmwork, and worked for my Father for a buck an hour from age 10. I was the guy who distributed the bundles of Campus Newspapers, all over the UC Davis Campus, 5 mornings a week for about $300/month…

Don’t tell me I had it good or easy…

Inflation is a challenge, but it has happened before, particularly in the 70’s…

My SS “Benefit” has gone up about 23%, since 2018, so that’s something…

HumboldtGurl1
Guest
HumboldtGurl1
24 days ago

I’ve recently been saying this exact same thing almost word for word, a while now, shocked that residents give the city SO MUCH $$ but the city doesn’t give back to the community whatsoever! If they do it’s hardly enough to notice. Sorry that’s just what I see and know to be true in my heart and gut. I heard Eureka used to be a fantastic place to raise a family but nowadays it’s just an armpit. Yes there’s some beautiful places, I’m talking about the fact that I believe (opinion only) all the cash cuz omfg it’s undeniably high, should be put BACK into the public an the people! None of my friends living elsewhere would dream of vacationing in this town or Humboldt County period! It’s sad. Just saying. Carry on 😀 hope you all have a wonderful beautiful fantastic weekend!

HumboldtGurl1
Guest
HumboldtGurl1
24 days ago

To add to the discussion in some of the comments above (or below) seems in general “they” are constantly finding ways to attack the American people in general. Then of course the separate states attack their people, California isn’t left out. It’s them against us, sure they enjoy us against us. 😪 wish i could say different. Regardless have a beautiful weekend ahead 🥰 stay warm peeps!

Rick
Guest
Rick
23 days ago

Is there anything these clowns can’t screw up? The more they touch, the more things turn to poo.

TD
Guest
TD
23 days ago

The point of high taxes is to have well paid politicians and government workers with secure retirements. I thought everyone knew that. The politicians certainly do.

MariahgirlD
Member
Mariahgirl
23 days ago

Gruesome newsom needs to go because we can’t afford him at all. Our cars are being destroyed on the roads in Humboldt County because he doesn’t use the tax money to fix them and he has raised the minimum wage so high that nobody can afford to go out to eat. When I got my first job I didn’t expect to start at the top but tried to work my way up. Now people are losing their jobs because businesses can’t afford what gruesome has declared the new wage.

Earthquake weather again this morning
Guest
Earthquake weather again this morning
23 days ago
Reply to  Mariahgirl

You just got TRICKED! truth is fast food restaurants are jacking you. The “food” price has gone up faster than wages. Federal minimum wages used to buy you 11 hash browns per hour at McDonalds. Now one hour of work buys you two.
Didja know? McDonald’s loses money on burgers. They are sold below cost. They make money on the soda. That’s why they push the larger sizes every time.

Permanently on Monitoring
Guest
Permanently on Monitoring
22 days ago

Headline should read:

Californians Pay High Gas Taxes and Gas Prices to Drive Poorly On Disgracefully Bad Highways…