Orange County Register: Ballot proposal would raise billions for electric cars, charging stations

Several billion dollars annually for new electric-vehicle incentives and new charging stations could be coming down the pike if a proposed “Clean Cars and Clean Air Act” qualifies for the ballot and gets the thumbs up from voters.

The proposal, which would also raise hundreds of millions for wildfire prevention measures, would generate the money one of two ways: increasing taxes on personal income over $2 million or increasing taxes on corporate net income over $20 million.

Proponents — who so far include Lyft, the IBEW electricians union and California Environmental Voters — have qualified both versions for the signature gathering needed to get on the November ballot. Those backers are expected to decide by the end of the month which approach they’ll pursue, taxing personal or corporate income.

The measure is intended to hasten the state’s reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, improve Southern California’s worst-in-the-nation air pollution and mitigate the growing threat of wildfires. It’s specifically designed to attract lower-income drivers to zero-emission vehicles.

While the state has been a global leader in addressing climate change, proponents say that leadership position is slipping away while air quality continues to be a perennial problem. Transportation accounts for half of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions and 80% of its smog, which is increasingly exacerbated by wildfires.

“We need to protect the health of Californians,” said clean-air advocate Bill Magavern, who helped write the ballot proposal. “California needs to step up to protect its own. The state is doing a lot to reduce harmful emissions but the budget, even with the governor making the commitment he has, is insufficient to address these problems.”

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, countered that Californians are already taxed enough.

“We already have some of the highest taxes in the country,” Coupal said. “A lot of the air pollution in Southern California could be eliminated by spending transportation dollars on freeway improvements to reduce traffic jams.

“If these proposals are really priorities, they should be paid for out of the existing general fund.”

Neither the California Chamber of Commerce nor the Orange County Business Council have taken a formal position on the proposal yet, but the council sounded particularly wary of the proposed corporate tax hike.

“During times of economic recovery such as now, tax increases that target business cripples our economic growth and job creation abilities,” said a statement from the council in response to a Southern California News Group inquiry on the proposed initiative. “Rather than place the private sector at a competitive disadvantage, we should advance environmental protections and technology innovations by embracing a robust business climate to sustain our high quality of life.”

Ballot qualification

Before proponents finish honing their rebuttal to critics, they must clear another considerable hurdle: raising the more than $2 million needed to gather 623,000 signatures required by July 11.

They’ve gotten off to a strong start, given the support of three diverse entities with political bankrolls.

Lyft’s participation comes as rideshare services are in the process of trying to meet a state requirement that they transition to vehicles with zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The proposed initiative would help ensure there’s a pool of clean-vehicle owners available to work rideshare jobs.

The IBEW union could benefit with more jobs installing charging stations. California Environmental Voters, formerly the California League of Conservation Voters, is a veteran political group experienced in rallying resources from other environmental groups.

Additionally, representatives of firefighter unions have been involved in discussions about the measure and may also join the effort.

“I anticipate the organizations investing in this are going to grow and the resources will be there to get this on the ballot,” said Laura Deehan, state director of Environment California. While her group has not yet endorsed the measure, she was involved with drafting the initiative.

“We need a game changer to address these air quality issues,” Deehan said. “This ballot measure is the type of political innovation that can help us reach the bold goals set by the state.”

The state’s biggest clean car goal is to end the sale of new gas cars, and allow only the sale of zero-emission passenger vehicles, by 2035.

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