Tax on Income Above $2 Million for Zero-Emissions Vehicles and Wildfire Prevention Initiative
Let me start by saying that in my day job, I work for Lyft, which is one of the sponsors of Prop 30. I also drive an electric vehicle and my house is powered by solar, which will tell you even more about my tree-hugging, renewable-energy-loving perspective. That said, I believe every word that I’ve written here, and my goal is to help you decide how to vote, either way. The views I express here are my own, and not that of my employer.
First, the basics: Prop 30 would increase the tax from 13.3% to 15% on income above $2 million for individuals in California, and would dedicate the revenue to zero-emission vehicle subsidies and zero-emission vehicle infrastructure, such as electric vehicle charging stations, as well as wildfire suppression and prevention programs. The new tax would take effect on January 1, 2023, and extend for 20 years, or it would end after three consecutive years of low statewide carbon emissions (80% of 1990 levels), whichever is sooner.
The new tax revenue would be deposited into the Clean Cars and Clean Air Trust Fund, and would then be allocated to the following three sub-funds:
- Zero-Emission Vehicle and Clean Mobility Sub-Fund (45% of revenue) – estimated at $2.1 billion to $3 billion every year. This fund would make EVs cheaper with point-of-sale rebates, which will make it easier for Californians who can’t afford a Tesla to buy a new EV.
- Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Investment Plan Sub-Fund (35% of revenue) – estimated at $1.6 billion to $2.3 billion every year. This fund would support a statewide electric vehicle charging network that will include low- and middle-income communities.
- Wildfire Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Sub-Fund (20% of revenue) – estimated at $930 million to $1.3 billion every year. This fund will significantly increase resources to help prevent and fight wildfires, with money for early detection, firefighter training and staffing, and forest management. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has said the wildfire investment could save the state money, as more resources for firefighters and prescribed burns could prevent mega-fires in the future.
I probably don’t need to tell you that gas-powered vehicles are primarily responsible for roughly 50% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. And tailpipe exhaust is the main reason why California’s Black and Latinx communities disproportionately suffer from lung diseases and have been more vulnerable to serious illness or death from COVID. Switching the state’s transportation system over to electric will significantly improve the air quality, but it will also start the reversal of global climate change that has led to wildfires and drought conditions.
I grew up in California and I remember a time when wildfires were rare. But we now live in a world where huge portions of the state burn down every year, and Californians are getting used to smoky air and drought conditions that may never end. Words can’t express how sad this makes me.
As a mom, I want to help make the planet a better place for my 5 year old daughter and her future here. I’m not sure if Prop 30 will give us better air quality than I had in my youth, but it will certainly help make a dent in the two biggest sources of carbon emissions in California: transportation and wildfires.
I drive an electric vehicle because: (1) I want to stop contributing to the state’s air quality problems, (2) gasoline prices are way too high; (3) I could get an HOV-lane sticker and skip right past rush hour traffic (whee!); and (4) most importantly, the burning of fossil fuels is a leading contributor to global climate change, and I want to do my part. I am fortunate enough to be able to afford an EV, and I own my home, so I could install my own charger at my house. I realize that I am in the minority.
California needs Prop 30 to make EV technology viable and to enable more folks to make the switch… because let’s be real: millions of lower income drivers are often struggling to make their own car payments, and they certainly don’t have the money to buy a new electric vehicle or a charging system. Likewise, trucking and bus companies won’t be motivated to trade in diesel-fueled vehicles for new EV rigs without government subsidies.
Supporters of Prop 30 include environmentalists, progressive politicians, public health advocates, and people who like science: the California Democratic Party, the American Lung Association, Public Health Institute, California Nurses for Environmental Health and Justice, California State Firefighters, California Environmental Voters, Union of Concerned Scientists, National Resources Defense Council, Save the Bay, The Climate Center, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and Lyft.
The main opponents of Prop 30 are the people who generally oppose taxes, including the California Republican Party, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and dozens of chambers of commerce. But there are also a few heavy hitters whom you’ve undoubtedly already heard from: the California Teachers Association and Governor Gavin Newsom.
The teachers’ union argues that Prop 30 undermines funding for public education because it bypasses the state’s normal taxation process (which includes a minimum funding guarantee for public schools) by placing Prop 30 revenues directly into a trust fund, rather than the General Fund. The teachers agree that improving California’s air quality is an important cause, but they are worried about the precedent Prop 30 will set for big corporations or special interests in setting up their own taxpayer-funded carveout.
Newsom calls Prop 30 “a cynical scheme devised by a single corporation to funnel state income tax revenue to their company.” Yep, he’s referring to Lyft. But the statement is both factually incorrect and confounding, because Lyft is only one member of a broad coalition backing the measure. And while it’s true that Prop 30 will make it easier for Lyft to reach its goal of 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2030, it will also help many other companies and individuals make the switch to electric.
Contrary to Governor Newsom’s statement, not a single dollar of Prop 30 revenue is earmarked for Lyft or any other “special interest.” The infrastructure investments are designed to specifically benefit drivers to make a faster transition to cleaner cars. Remember: the vast majority of vehicles on rideshare platforms are owned by the drivers – not by Lyft and Uber – and these drivers need help making the switch to EVs. Rideshare drivers will be eligible for Prop 30 funds just like any Californian who is considering making the switch.
Promoting zero emission vehicles has been a stated policy goal of the Governor himself for many years, so his opposition to the measure is confusing to environmentalists and many of his own supporters. Just this year, Newsom himself put forward a $10 billion budget package that supports the move to electric vehicles to combat climate change.
But a one-time $10 billion budget allocation isn’t nearly enough to support the massive, long-term transformation that Newsom is hoping for. (By contrast, Prop 30 promises $4 billion to $6.4 billion every year for 20 years.)
For one, only a fraction of the $10 billion is going toward charging infrastructure, which is in my opinion the biggest hurdle to widespread adoption. CalMatters estimates that about 1.2 million chargers will be needed for the 8 million zero-emission cars expected by 2030. I invite you to nerd out with me on this state government website, which shows that currently there are only about 80,000 existing chargers in California with another 123,000 on the way – and you can see that this is nowhere near enough, because you are good at numbers. Moreover, most public charging stations are found in urban and coastal areas, and the lack of available charging stations is particularly tough for renters and people in rural parts of the state.
But here’s an even more vexing problem: the state recently decided to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035. If California doesn’t start building the infrastructure to support EVs, this unfunded mandate is going to fail. Instead of buying EVs in California, residents are simply going to go out of state to find gas-powered vehicles. And THAT would be a disaster beyond the policy failure – think of the massive loss of sales tax revenue to Nevada and other bordering states.
That is why we’re in this pickle, and it is why Lyft got involved in the first place. Two years ago, Lyft made a commitment to have 100% of vehicles operating on its platform be electrified by 2030, and it has also supported other electrification proposals considered in state houses across the country. Lyft has also said that it is committed to achieving 100% vehicle electrification regardless of Proposition 30’s outcome.
For those of you who make more than $2 million a year (and you haven’t already moved to Austin??), I understand if you don’t want to support the measure. California is always looking for ways to make it harder for you to live here comfortably, and it feels like you are constantly footing the bill for the state’s basic needs. Don’t get me started on California’s structural budget deficit and our fucked up ballot measure system. But without solving those very hairy problems, we are stuck taxing the rich – again – because there is nowhere else to turn, and our very survival as a species is at stake.
The Paris Agreement stated that the planet has until 2030 to reduce emissions by 45% to have a chance at avoiding catastrophic climate change. We are very, VERY far from reaching this goal, and we are less than 8 years away. Prop 30 is California’s best bet at getting closer to a future with cleaner air and fewer wildfires. I hope you’ll join me in voting for the measure.