California is in its megadrought era and it’s not a great look. 2000-2021 have been the driest years on record in California for the last 1,000 years. This megadrought has also been accompanied by some other alarming record-breaking incidences like the highest rate of tree die offs in the last 100 years, the hottest years on record, and 2020’s astounding August Complex gigafire, that ravaged a million acres of land.
It is more obvious than ever that the time to act was yesterday, but reading about climate catastrophe has become so routine in the last few years that it is easy to disengage and to forget about our collective power as voters and citizens of the world. It helps that our home state aspires to be a global leader in the fight against climate change, consistently setting the environmental standards for the rest of the country. On our ballots this year, Prop 30 could be a make or break piece of legislature in the sustained fight against climate change.
At its most basic level, Prop 30 is designed to find the money to fund the state’s transition away from gas-powered vehicles. To accomplish this, Prop 30 will impose a 1.75% additional income tax to the state’s wealthiest residents earning more than $2 million a year.
The tax will expire in either 20 years or when the state’s goal has been reached. According to estimates, this 1.75% increase has the potential to raise an additional $3-4.5 billion additional dollars per year to be invested in fighting and preventing wildfires (20%), funding incentives for people, businesses and government organizations to purchase ZEVs (45%), and paying for charging stations and other infrastructural changes to accommodate an increased number of ZEVs (35%).
Voting “Yes,” on Prop 30 would approve this temporary tax increase, and a “No,” would reject it. The bill has been endorsed by the American Lung Association, the Coalition for Clean Air, Climate Action Campaign, LA Forward, Save The Bay, Public Health Institute and an overwhelming number of other climate action groups and labor unions.
The bill would pay for the decarbonization of the state. $10 billion dollars in funding has already been allocated toward this effort, but it is a Herculean task. The impending 2035 ban on the sale of new gas-powered vehicles is an exciting prospect, but thousands of low-income drivers will be priced out of replacements. Meaning that gas-powered vehicles will still be on the road, polluting the air for years to come.
Tax breaks and incentives will help to ease the burden on low and middle income families to make decisions that better their world. It would additionally help to pay for the replacement of the state’s buses and increase the state’s scant public EV charging stations. For reference, Los Angeles has 2,248 buses powered by CNG that will need to be replaced by electric vehicles and 35,984 public EV charging stations. Increasing the number of public EV charging stations will be key to increasing ZEV ownership, especially for renters who may or may not be able to install EV charging ports in their homes.
These fundamental changes will not be easy and they will not be cheap. The funding generated by Prop 30 would be invaluable to the state’s ambitious plan to participate on the global stage as leaders in the fight against climate change. The bill is well constructed, and calls for a biennial audit by the State Auditor for all associated programs to ensure that the funds are being responsibly and productively allocated.
Critics of the bill decry the increase as being excessive. California already has one of the highest tax rates for high income earners at 13.33%. This increase would mean that .01 of the state’s population, the aforementioned $2 million+ income earners, would be taxed at a rate of 15.05%. They insist that such an increase would drive these high income earners out in droves! Until none are left, and we have no rich people left to foot the bill for the life-sustaining, absolutely imperative infrastructural overhauls necessary to avoid climate disaster in the state of California (and globally).
However, the argument could also be made that pervasive, destructive wildfires, mass extinctions, sustained drought, punishing heat waves, resource scarcity, and choking pollution that causes death and disease would also affect the desire – or, indeed, ability – of the ultra-wealthy to continue to call the Golden State home. The critic’s argument also begs the question: how long will we continue to allow these high-income-earners to refuse to pay their fair share? The negotiation feels comical when the other side says, “don’t increase my taxes or we’ll move and torch the planet.”
Additionally, The California Teachers Association opposes Prop 30 on the grounds that it would take much needed funding away from education. To some end, this is true. In California, 40% of the state’s budget is funneled into public education. It is true that Prop 30’s writing does seem to intentionally circumvent that rule. It also fails to provide any funding for any of the state’s other challenges, programs, or crises. But the climate crisis is the greatest threat facing our time. In order to ensure a future in which children have schools to fund, the prioritization of funding for programs that would slow and reverse the devastating effects of our changing climate are vital and should take precedence.
Another major talking point, particularly Governor Gavin Newsom’s, is that rideshare giants like Uber and Lyft stand to benefit greatly from tax incentives that would relieve them of the burden of providing the cash to their fleet to meet the state’s requirement of transitioning their fleet by the year 2030. And that is true. It is also true that Lyft has invested a whopping $25 million dollars in the “Yes on 30” ad campaign. Governor Newsom calls the bill a “trojan horse,” which is an ultimately flimsy metaphor as nothing is truly concealed. Lyft’s investment in the passage of the bill is clear, as is the interest of any corporation who could cash in on tax rebates for EV’s. Ultimately, it’s a small price to pay for the passage of a Prop that would help to effectively address the greatest humanitarian crisis the planet has ever faced.
Unfortunately, we’ve let the clock run out where the climate crisis is concerned. The time to act has come and gone and all we can do now is try our best to play catch up to ensure the health and safety of the planet not just for future generations, but for the duration of our own lives. Prop 30 is not a perfect Prop, but nothing comes without cost or risk and ultimately the risk of inaction far outweighs the risk of action. Decarbonizing California must be a Priority for residents if we wish to continue to have California residents. A Yes on 30, for all its imperfections, is an urgently needed step toward addressing the climate emergency.
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