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California struggles with who pays for public charging stations for electric cars

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly say, "if gas cars replace electric ones." It should have been the other way around, "if electric cars replace gas ones."]


A ballot proposition in California that would tax wealthy residents to pay for electric vehicle incentives has driven a political wedge between the state's progressive governor, Gavin Newsom, and his fellow Democrats. From KQED in San Francisco, Kevin Stark has more.

KEVIN STARK, BYLINE: California is struggling with thorny issues that many states will face if gas cars replace electric ones [see POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION above]. Who pays for public charging stations? Can EVs be affordable for everyone? And environmentalists thought they had the solution.

DENNY ZANE: There's one planet. We're in it together. We have to take the steps to ensure that climate change is abated and reversed.

STARK: Denny Zane is the former mayor of Santa Monica. He has a long history of pushing Californians to raise taxes to pay for clean transportation. He convinced Los Angeles voters on a sales tax hike to pay for public transit in 2008 and 2016.

ZANE: We went to the ballot, and it worked. LA now has about a hundred and twenty billion dollars over the next 40 years coming to invest in transportation.

STARK: After those wins, Zane wanted to go bigger. He and other California Democrats conceived of Proposition 30, a clean air initiative that would raise the income tax on Californians who make more than $2 million a year to pay for electric car rebates, charging stations and wildfire prevention.


LIBBY SCHAAF: Prop 30 is an innovative measure that all Californians must support as if their lives depend on it.

STARK: Oakland's Mayor Libby Schaaf says climate change and air pollution are killing Californians and is one of the state's many Democrats supporting the bill, most of whom were shocked when Newsom, who banned the sale of new gasoline cars after 2035, opposed it. Electric vehicles and wildfire prevention are two of Newsom's top state priorities, but he is increasingly positioning himself as a national leader, dinging conservative governors on energy, abortion and other issues.

California already has the highest income tax rate in the U.S. and raising taxes is not popular nationally. Analysts say his opposition makes perfect political sense, even if it has him siding with anti-tax conservatives. Newsom starred solo in an advertisement warning Californians not to vote for the measure.


GAVIN NEWSOM: Don't be fooled. Prop 30 is being advertised as a climate initiative. But in reality, it was devised by a single corporation to funnel state income taxes to benefit their company.

STARK: The corporation is the ride-hailing giant Lyft. The company has spent tens of millions of dollars bankrolling the campaign in support. California recently mandated that 9 out of 10 miles for ride-hailing companies must be with an EV by 2030. Lyft wants the state to invest in charging infrastructure, which this measure would do, making the cars cheaper for its drivers, too.

John Zimmer pushed back on Newsom's assertion that the measure was devised by the company he co-founded.


JOHN ZIMMER: This is about the health of our neighbors and communities. That's why we agreed to get involved when environmental leaders approached us with their plan to reduce California emissions.

STARK: Prop 30 has the majority support among likely voters, according to a recent poll. Governor Newsom's opposition could put a dent in that support. For his part, Zane thought Newsom would be a partner in this fight.

ZANE: We finally had somebody who was going to help back the signature drive. Suddenly, it's like a scheme. That's just wrong. That's just a mistake.

STARK: And he says he won't stop pushing. The state estimates the measure would generate billions over the next two decades if it passes in November.

For NPR News, I'm Kevin Stark in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 26, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of the radio story incorrectly says, "if gas cars replace electric ones." It should have been the other way around, "if electric cars replace gas ones."
Kevin Stark