A giant turkey for California: tax motorists by the mile

It’s almost as if Adriana Gianturco, who became better known


during the 1970s and ’80s administration of ex-Gov. Jerry Brown,
had resurfaced in California with yet another impractical idea to
infuriate the drivers of this state.
It’s almost as if Adriana Gianturco, who became better known as “Giant-Turkey” during the 1970s and ’80s administration of ex-Gov. Jerry Brown, had resurfaced in California with yet another impractical idea to infuriate the drivers of this state.

Like Ms. Gianturco, the Massachusetts import installed by Brown as the head of Caltrans, current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s choice to head the Department of Motor Vehicles plainly has no idea how much Californians love their cars and the freedom to drive wherever they like, with no one keeping track.

There’s danger here for Schwarzenegger. For it was partly because of Gianturco that Brown was eventually dubbed “Gov. Moonbeam” by the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko. More than 25 years later, he still has not lived down that sobriquet.

Joan Borucki, Schwarzenegger’s pick to run the DMV, spent part of last month bewailing the fact that Californians are paying 8.8 percent less in gas taxes today than seven years ago, even though they are driving more cars and racking up 16 percent more miles – a startling combination created by an influx of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Gas tax income isn’t enough anymore to pay for all needed road repairs, so Borucki has advocated taxing motorists by the mile and installing tracking devices in every car to ensure they are billed sufficiently.

Not a popular notion. Said a contributor to one online chatroom, “This guy (Schwarzenegger) is getting scary. I thought he was going to bring in some common sense kinds of folks to cut the fat, not just add another volume to the tax code. He’d better get it together quick.”

That’s the kind of thing a lot of Californians said about Brown when Gianturco started her tenure at Caltrans by advocating carpool lanes on virtually all urban freeways. To show she meant business, she started with the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles, still the world’s busiest highway, which then carried more than 250,000 vehicles a day.

Gianturco closed off the far-left fast lane of that freeway in each direction to all but cars carrying three persons or more. And stuff started hitting the fan.

The precursors of today’s talk-show hosts had a field day taking the side of furious motorists who found themselves stuck in even heavier traffic than what went before. Local politicians adopted the cause. After a few months, the high-occupancy lanes were reopened to everyone, but Brown had a black eye from which he never really recovered.

It was years before anyone again tried to install high-occupancy lanes on urban freeways. Even then, no one ever again tried to create them without tacking new lanes onto existing roadways, so motorists would not be deprived of lanes they were accustomed to driving.

Now comes Borucki, a career staff bureaucrat for the state Transportation Commission and a participant in writing Schwarzenegger’s California Performance Review plan for reorganizing state government.

Long before any legislative committee even considered ratifying her appointment, she was arousing comparisons with Gianturco, who eventually retreated back to her native New England.

For it immediately became obvious to virtually everyone that by taxing all motorists equally for the miles they drive, the state would be penalizing motorists who drive hybrids and other fuel efficient cars. These people thought they’d be saving money by using less gas than drivers of humongous SUVs like the Hummers favored by the governor.

Editorialized one large newspaper: “It’s hard to see how California’s long-term roadway and environmental needs can be met by penalizing (fuel-efficient drivers) while rewarding gas-guzzlers.”

Borucki was also spoofed immediately. The online “Daily Farce'” which carries a disclaimer saying “nothing on this website is real'” claimed Schwarzenegger and Borucki want to “implement a new tax on California drivers that listen to radio talk shows.” The spoof put the tax at 15 cents a minute while listening to one popular show. “The tax would automatically triple if the driver actually calls or emails any governmental offices talked about in the show'” it added.

The satire went on to “quote” ex-Gov. Gray Davis, who felt he was hounded from office by several radio talkers, as saying “I sure wish they’d had that tax back when I was governor. I had a perfect job. I was signing bills right and left. All of Mexico was going to drive legally in California. Then these guys got (mad) at me and now look at me … would you like fries with that order, sir?”

Ridicule like that is the surest way to discredit both government policies and government officials.

Which means that Schwarzenegger had best be careful. For ridicule aimed at a department head can quickly migrate to her boss. Ask Gov. Moonbeam.

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