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'Rebuilding California': Controversy Over Signs Telling People Their Tax Dollars Are at Work

Caltrans says signs on transportation projects are nothing more than a useful way to show taxpayers that gas tax funds are being put to good use. But not everyone agrees.
August 28, 2018, 10am PDT | Camille Fink
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Throughout California, signage on transportation construction projects reminds people that their tax dollars are being put to work. However, Sen. Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) is arguing that the signs influence public opinion and should be removed. With a gas tax repeal on the November ballot, Larry Mantle considers whether these signs are political speech or a legitimate way to highlight road improvement expenditures.

Matt Rocco of Caltrans points out that signs have gone up on projects in California since 1928, and they have long been used to inform taxpayers about how their money is being invested. "We want to change the opinion of the public to let them know that Caltrans and other transportation agencies are at work right now to catch up on the nearly $130 billion of deferred maintenance that’s occurred over the last few decades," says Rocco.

But Susan Shelley of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association argues that these signs are not neutral. She says they are an example of publicly funded communications with constituents, and they affect public opinion too close to the election. Raphe Sonenshein of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs believes that "the bigger issue is going to be how active can a state government be in taking a position on this measure going forward."

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