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Daily Pilot

Commentary: I am committed to stopping 405 toll lanes

By Matthew Harper

6:21 PM PDT, July 25, 2014

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What will voters decide when it comes to the impending decisions about taxing and tolling today's totally tapped-out drivers?

The California Department of Transportation, under the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown, continues to pressure local agencies like the Orange County Transportation Authority to impose tolls on local drivers.

We don't need to cannibalize freeways to create toll lanes that kick drivers off the road unless they pay up. It doesn't make sense to reduce the mobility of many in order to enhance the mobility of a few.

Don't get me wrong. I think we need to improve our transportation system by building new capacity. In order to get the 91 Express Lanes built, it took financing through collected tolls.

However, the proposal to convert freeway lanes into toll lanes on the 405 Freeway in Orange County uses Measure M sales tax dollars. The measure was approved by the voters for freeway construction, and the money should not go toward tollway construction. Nor should it be used to convert existing freeway lanes into toll lanes.

This isn't just an issue in Orange County. We are a decision point for the entire state. Once toll lane proponents can capture a couple of lanes on each freeway, then there is little stopping them from taking each freeway lane over, one by one, until the entire system becomes tolls only.

The good news is that many leaders in Orange County oppose the conversion of freeway lanes into toll lanes: Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer, Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo, Seal Beach Mayor Ellery Deaton, Westminster Mayor Tri Ta and many others. On the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority, directors John Moorlach and Gary Miller have joined me in steadfast opposition to the conversion of freeway lanes into toll lanes.

Unfortunately for Orange County's drivers, other elected officials, including Councilman Keith Curry from Newport Beach, are willing to go along with the Brown administration's plan to convert freeway lanes into toll lanes.

Many of the same elected officials want to impose a mileage tax as well. The state Legislature is considering the new tax, which would levy a charge on drivers for every mile driven.

During a recent candidates forum hosted by the Orange County Taxpayers Assn., Curry, my opponent in the Assembly race, acknowledged that he supports a mileage tax to pay for transportation needs in California. I disagreed, countering that transportation needs should be met by making tough decisions within the constraints of existing revenue.

The layers of taxes and tolls are going to break the backs of many drivers, who will be left questioning why elected officials want to impose even more burdens on top of existing gasoline taxes and Orange County's Measure M sales tax. As if the layers of taxes are not enough, toll lanes will price drivers off the freeways, leaving many with far less mobility than they had before.

No matter how much pressure I get, I will oppose new taxes and I will oppose the conversion of freeway lanes into toll lanes — as a director for the Orange County Transportation Authority, or if elected to the California State Assembly in November over Curry.

I am looking forward to the debate with my opponent to ask why he thinks Californians are undertaxed. I disagree. I believe that we could tax and toll away prosperity and that the future of Orange County and California is too important.

Huntington Beach Mayor MATTHEW HARPER is running for state Assembly in the 74th District.