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Californians Vote to Maintain Roads and Transit by Rejecting Gas Tax Repeal

In potentially the most important transportation ballot measure in the state since 1990, the last time residents voted on the gas tax, Californians were deciding whether to repeal fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees approved last year.
November 9, 2018, 2pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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It wasn't even close: Over 55 percent of Californians on Tuesday rejected a partisan attempt to repeal a comprehensive transportation funding package, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, that took the legislature two years to approve with a two-thirds majority.

California has the nation's second highest gas prices ($3.74 per gallon) after Hawaii, a dollar higher than the national average, and the nation's second highest state gas tax at 55.53 cents per gallon after Pennsylvania. 

Proposition 6: "Voter Approval for Future Gas and Vehicle Taxes and 2017 Tax Repeal Initiative," would have reduced the state gas tax by 12-cents per gallon, diesel excise tax by 20 cents per gallon, and eliminated new vehicle registration fees included in the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, all of which are projected to bring in over $5 billion annually to repair the state's deteriorating roads, bridges, and public transit.

Opponents spent heavily to gather signatures to place the repeal on the ballot as a means to promote Republican turn-out at the midterm elections. 

"Republicans in California’s congressional delegation, including Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes, and Mimi Walters, see the repeal effort as a way to energize the party’s voters," reported Bloomberg Environment.

"At one point it appeared the initiative could be a defining issue for the state’s midterm election," reports Patrick McGreevy for the Los Angeles Times (source article.) Initially, it led in the polls.

The repeal effort gained momentum in June when backers succeeded in recalling state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) over his vote for the higher taxes. Three weeks later, the repeal measure qualified for the ballot when those behind it turned in more than 585,000 signatures of registered voters.

But then the money from deep-pocketed Republicans dried up as GOP leaders shifted their attention to helping their party’s candidates in close congressional and state legislative races.

Repeal proponents, led by former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, raised $5 million but were "eclipsed by the $47 million brought in by initiative opponents from the construction industry, organized labor and Democrats," adds McGreevy.

[Full disclosure: This correspondent made a small contribution to TransForm, an Oakland-based non-profit, that also mounted a campaign against the repeal.]

More than a repeal: Prop. 6 would have prevented the legislature from doing its job.

Since Feb. 15, 2013, when Republican Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming signed a 10-cents per gallon gas tax hike, legislatures in 27 states, mostly Republican-controlled, "have raised or reformed their gas taxes," reported Carl Davis, research director of the Tax Foundation, on May 22. Two Republican-controlled state legislatures, Nebraska and South Carolina, managed to override vetoes of gas tax increase legislation by their Republican governors.

Prop. 6, an initiated constitutional amendment, would change the state's constitution to "require voter approval (via ballot propositions) for the California State Legislature to impose, increase, or extend fuel taxes or vehicle fees in the future," per Ballotpedia. In fact, that's the route the last gas tax hike took:  Prop. 111 on June 1990: a 9-cents per gallon gas tax increase, placed on the ballot after the passage of Senate Constitutional Amendment 1 in 1989.

Twenty-eight years later, the legislature managed to directly implement a 12-cents per gallon increase with the passage of Senate Bill 1 in April 2017 which required a two-thirds vote. Prop. 6 would have added an entirely new layer of "taxpayer protection" in the form of Taxpayers Bill of Rights for transportation taxes and fees, giving voters the final say, similar to what exists in Colorado and Missouri. More on those states later...


Hat tip to MTC News Headlines.
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Published on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 in Los Angeles Times
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