By Celene Talavera and Tyra Willis | Special to The OBSERVER

A proposition aimed at improving air quality, preventing wildfires and making zero-emission cars accessible for disadvantaged and low-income communities will be on the ballot during the November midterm elections.

Proposition 30, formerly known as the Clean Air Initiative, would increase taxes by 1.75% on personal incomes over $2 million. The proposition could generate $3.5 billion to $5 billion annually if passed. The revenue would be allocated to address each issue separately.

According to the proposition, 35% will go toward zero-emission infrastructure, 45% towards helping California residents purchase zero-emission vehicles and 20% toward wildfire and prevention programs.

Proposition 30 supporters argue that air pollution in low-income neighborhoods is an often-ignored issue.

An American Lung Association report released in April 2022 found that Sacramento County is among the 25 most polluted in America. The report also found that “people of color were 61% more likely than White people” to live in an area with high air pollution.

Transportation accounts for approximately 50% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the California Energy Commission. The communities most affected by poor air quality and pollution are communities of color and low-income communities.

“This measure really centers equity and tries to combat environmental racism,” said Nick Josefowitz, the chief policy director for SPUR, a public policy nonprofit. “The language of the measure explicitly says that low-income Californians in disadvantaged communities need to benefit from 50% of the investments.”

A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “pollution is disproportionately caused by Whites, but disproportionately inhaled by Black and Hispanic minorities.”

Americans are also more likely to die from air pollution than car accidents and murders combined, the study found.

“It is never easy to ask someone to pay more money,” said Josefowitz, “but we think that it is not fair to go to low-income communities and ask them to clean up their own air, when they hadn’t played a role in the dirtying of it.”

Bill Magavern, co-author of the proposition and the policy director at the Coalition for Clean Air, said Proposition 30 will “help those communities have access to clean mobility and air.”

“We want to focus on those Californians who have historically had the least ability to access clean transportation,” he added. Proposition 30 also would help those “looking for better forms of transportation.”

The proposition would fund programs that provide subsidies to people who want to buy electric cars. The average cost of an electric car in 2022 is around $66,000, which is 37% more than cars that are gas-powered, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Dave Dolliver, former CEO of the Sacramento-based company Digital Gear, fully supports Prop 30. “If you make over $2 million, you can afford it. A tax increase of 1.75% is not that much to combat the issues noted in the initiative,” he said.

Others question whether a tax increase on the wealthy is the right move to fund this initiative. “It is common knowledge that the state budget already relies on the super-rich,” said Shannon Ross, a Sacramento resident and former California state government worker. “We need a more stable funding system.”

Jon Coupal, president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said that California is already having to compete with states such as Nevada, Texas and Washington that have low to no income tax to retain its wealthy population. “We oppose it because it’s a tax increase,” Coupal said. “California already has the highest income tax rate in America at 13.3%. This would be an additional 1.75%.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom opposed the proposition in an ad, calling it corporate welfare. “Don’t be fooled,” Newsom said in the ad. “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.”

The proposition received major funding from the ride-sharing company Lyft. Opponents claim Lyft supports proposition 30 only because it benefits greatly from it. According to the California secretary of state, Lyft is the biggest donor supporting the proposition, having contributed $35 million.

The NAACP California/Hawaii State Conference released a statement in opposition of the proposition, sharing some of Newsom’s concerns. “It would set a dangerous precedent for big corporations to create funding streams for special projects that take away not just from schools but from public programs like health care, social services, and public safety,” said the statement. Coupal said Lyft will be using taxpayers’ money to fund its transition to zero-emission vehicles.

“I think people are beginning to realize that this is not a recipe for economic growth,” Coupal said.

Lyft’s co-founder, Logan Green, responded to the backlash in a ​​blog post, stating that “not a single dollar of Proposition 30 is earmarked for Lyft or the ridesharing industry as a whole.” Lyft drivers will be eligible to receive help from the initiative “just like ALL Californians,” Green wrote.

Proposition 30 also allocates 20% of its new revenue toward wildfire concerns. Some of these funds will go towards hiring permanent and seasonal firefighters.

Tanya Faison, the founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, expressed concern that the wildfire funds would not be justly distributed.

“I want to know how much of that money is going to be used to hire the Black people” who have been fighting these wildfires while incarcerated, she said.

Newsom signed a bill in September 2020 allowing formerly incarcerated people who helped during the wildfire season gain employment fighting fires. It is up to the courts to determine case-by-case whether they will be allowed to continue their work after being released.

Faison said it is important to provide a pathway to employment for people who earn as little as $2.90 a day fighting fires. She worries that the proposition will only help provide electric cars but not employment.

Magavern said that “formerly incarcerated individuals are not specifically mentioned” in the measure, but a portion of the funds would go to hiring and training new firefighters.

If passed, the tax increase goes into effect in January. There will be no change in personal income tax rates if the proposition fails. The tax increase would continue for up to 20 years or until California’s overall emissions drastically decrease.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This report was prepared by Sac State data-journalism students under the direction of Professor Phillip Reese.