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Road user tax is actually mileage tax


It felt like a slap in the face to read the article “Issa seeks to block road use charges, a possible alternative to fading gas tax revenue” by Michael Smolens, San Diego Union Tribune columnist, in the Ramona Sentinel issue from Feb. 9 where he defended the mileage tax that will absolutely decimate our rural community by adding an exorbitant cost to already expensive housing and gas.

The author also attacks our U.S. Representative Darrell Issa for proposing legislation aimed to protect us from additional taxing and tracking. Darrell Issa is doing his job by listening to his constituents. He needs to be praised for it, not vilified.

Smolens modestly calls the mileage tax “road user charge,” the term used by its proponents to keep it away from the ballot box since the new taxes have to be voted on. The mileage tax would absolutely be on top of the gas tax, not an alternative, for one simple reason: the gas tax pays for the road repairs while the mileage tax does not.

100% of the mileage tax will go to transit and Active Transportation Programs (biking, walking, non-motorized vehicles) as stated in the SANDAG 2021 Regional Plan, Appendix V: Funding and Revenues, page V-4. Some politicians may tell you it is no longer part of the San Diego Regional Transportation Plan…not true. The mileage tax IS part of the current 2021 Plan, but it is also in the 2025 update of the 2021 plan.

This regional “road user charge” is not to maintain any highways or any roads. It is all about public transit.

The objective is to force people to use transit in order to achieve the County’s mandated goal of a 19% greenhouse gas reduction — but San Diego is already very close to this 19% goal — within half of a percent. In 2021, the SANDAG board gave direction to the staff to come up with options to remove the road user charge, but the CEO Hassan Ikhrata disobeyed the board and submitted the SANDAG Regional Plan WITH the mileage tax to the California Air Resources Board for approval, which was against board direction, according to the SANDAG board member San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones.

There were no plans of taking it out, any options or alternatives. All the SANDAG staff had to do was to conduct an analysis to find out what other measures could be taken since it was very close, about a 0.4 percent difference of meeting our 19% greenhouse gas reduction with the road user charge out of the plan. So, they could have come up with some other ideas but they never gave those to the board.

All San Diego County residents can have their voices heard regarding the SANDAG’s 2025 Regional Plan Update by emailing to Kirsten Uchitel at by March 6.

The mileage tax will apply to both gas-powered and electric vehicles despite the fact that EVs already have no emissions. Forcing people to drive less in their electric vehicles will not do anything to reduce greenhouse gases. That’s where the issue of tracking comes in. If you are driving an all-electric vehicle, the authors of this plan don’t really care about your greenhouse gases. They care where you are driving, how you are driving and traveling. And the transponder will track all your moves because it will have to charge you.

This mileage tax, estimated at 6 cents per mile, besides raising an ethical issue of tracking, will cost an average Ramona resident who drives 15,000 miles a year $900 per year (the commute from the Estates to General Atomics in Poway), and who drives 25,000 miles (the commute from the Estates to Qualcomm in Sorrento Valley) — $1,500 a year.

For families with two cars, it will cost twice as much: between $1,800 and $3,000 a year. Add vacations and weekend trips to the desert, to visit grandparents, etc., and the mileage tax expense will skyrocket. And the businesses with commercial vehicles will pass this added cost to their consumers.

These are some examples to paint a vivid picture of the hardship guaranteed by this proposal. The mileage tax will charge 97% of San Diego County commuters who are drivers, to pay for the 3% of commuters who use public transit. In absence of any meaningful transit in Ramona, there will be no way for us to avoid paying this mileage tax. And to be “meaningful”, transit has to have a bus/train on schedule every 10-15 minutes and transport the passengers to their destination anywhere in San Diego in an hour or less.

The article gives the impression that Smolens has no idea what it is like to live in a rural area like Ramona, and to commute every day to work down the hill; he is not a Ramona resident. The article looks tone-deaf and out of place in our local newspaper designed to deliver news about our town by people of our town.

Phillips is a Ramona resident and member of the Ramona Unified School District board