California Gas Tax Repeal Wins Significant Judicial Victory

The effort to repeal tax and fee increases resulting from the state's first successful gas tax legislation in 28* years received great news from a Sacramento superior court judge who tossed the attorney general's misleading title for their measure.

3 minute read

October 7, 2017, 7:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Cancun gas station

photopixel / Shutterstock

A judge intervened to rename an initiative that would repeal the 12-cents gas tax increase, as well as other taxes and fees included in the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (aka SB 1), many of which take effect next month. The measure now needs to qualify for the November 2018 election.

Also in this post:

  • Polling results
  • GOP congressmen take position on repeal.
  • Status of recall of state Sen. Josh Newborn because of his vote to pass gas tax increase

The initiative title, "Eliminates recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing revenues dedicated for those purposes," assigned by Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office, was described as "fundamentally flawed" by Judge Timothy M. Frawley of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, reports Patrick McGreevy for the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 26. 

"This is not a situation where reasonable minds may differ," Frawley wrote in his ruling. "The Attorney General's title and summary ... must be changed to avoid misleading the voters and creating prejudice against the measure."

Frawley assigned a new title: "Repeals recently enacted gas and diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees. Eliminates road repair and transportation programs funded by these taxes and fees.

The ruling is a significant victory to the to the "Repeal the Gas Tax" campaign and it's sponsor, Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), also a "longshot" candidate for governor.

The campaign has 180 days (from Sept. 25) to gather 365,880 valid signatures from registered California voters, as long as it qualifies at least 131 days before the Nov. 6, 2018 election. Should Assemblyman Allen finish in the "top-two" in the June 5 primary, the sponsor and his initiative would appear together in November, 2018.

Polling results

"The first poll on [the] proposed ballot measure indicates 53.9% of California residents oppose repealing a new gas tax and vehicle fee hike," reports McGreevy on Oct. 4.

“The gas tax repeal is unlikely to be successful,” said pollster Adam Probolsky, the president of Probolsky Research in Newport Beach. Probolsky said 52% of Republicans would vote to repeal the tax, but their numbers in the state are not large enough to overcome strong opposition to repeal from Democrats.

However, a June poll on the repeal effort before the measure was officially named showed that 58 percent of voters opposed the gas tax increase, with only 35 percent in support.

GOP congressional caucus supports repeal

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and 10 of his 13 colleagues responded negatively to a letter by "a coalition of businesses and civic organizations that support the gas tax increases," the "Fix our Roads" campaign, by sending them a letter backing the gas tax repeal, reports McGreevy on Oct. 5. 

Recall of state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton)

The new state senator is being targeted for a variety of reasons:

  • He voted for the gas tax increase, along with two-thirds of the state legislature
  • He is vulnerable, having won his district in "an upset victory last year over Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang...part of what recall leader Carl DeMaio calls 'the gazelle strategy,'” reports Martin Wisckol for the Orange County Register on Sept. 15.
  • Should he lose, the Democrats lose their two-thirds supermajority, necessary to pass tax and fee increase legislation in the Senate.

Recall organizers have already submitted the necessary number of signatures to qualify the recall, but a new law allows those who signed the recall petition to retract their signatures.

McGreevy updates the status of a lawsuit against that signature provision on Oct. 3. According to Wisckol, though, the deadline for signature retractions is Oct. 11, and it appears to be an "uphill battle."

*Gas tax trivia: In 1989, the California State Legislature passed Senate Constitutional Amendment 1 to put Proposition 111 on the ballot in June 1990 that resulted in doubling the nine cents per gallon gas tax.

Hat tip to AASHTO Daily Transportation Update.

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