Repeal of Gas Tax Increase Possible in California

After several years, Sen. Jim Beall's persistent efforts to address the state's $130 billion road and bridge shortfall finally passed the legislature, but Assemblyman Travis Allen hopes to repeal the 12-cent tax hike through the initiative process.
May 11, 2017, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen from Huntington Beach launched a grassroots campaign on May 5 to repeal the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, aka SB 1, a 12 cents-per-gallon gas tax increase passed by the legislature on April 6 that takes effect November 1. His website asks for $5 donations and volunteers to gather petitions to qualify the initiative for the November 2018 ballot.

Sacramento Bee reporters Christopher Cadelago and Jim Miller explain why the repeal effort will not delay the gas tax increase, as one would expect in a voter referendum in California.

Allen is proposing an initiative, which means the earliest the tax could be repealed is after the November 2018 election. 

Referendums, which allow the law in question to be halted until voters pass judgment on the repeal, cannot be used to repeal tax levies or measures that lawmakers passed with an urgency clause, such as the gas tax increase.

California voters decided a referendum on banning single-use plastic bags last November. The bill to ban the bags became law in September 2014 and was scheduled to take effect in July 2015, but was placed on-hold because the referendum qualified for the ballot. Voters narrowly upheld the ban.

"Allen can begin to gather signatures once the state attorney general issues a title and summary for his repeal," add Cadelago and Miller.

“While we were unable to stop it in the Legislature,” Allen said, “I realized that through the initiative system, the people of California can have a voice in Sacramento.”

The "we" whom Allen refers to are Republican legislators. Only one Republican, Sen. Anthony Cannella, from Ceres, Stanislaus County, voted for SB 1 after making a deal for a $400 million extension of ACE commuter rail into his district, and a $100 million parkway to UC Merced, enabling the the bill to pass with a two-thirds supermajority.

"[Assemblyman Allen] said he has gotten an outpouring of support for the effort, but odds are long for initiatives that don’t have backing from billionaires or monied interest groups," reports Katy Murphy for The Mercury News. Initiatives in the Golden State rarely qualify without the use of paid signature-gatherers.

For example, an initiative to limit the size of revenue bonds, Proposition 53, qualified for the ballot last year as it was financed by a wealthy Stockton farmer. The initiative was believed to have targeted high-speed rail and the Delta water tunnels. It was narrowly defeated, with 50.58 percent voting no.

On the other hand, a grassroots Massachusetts effort in 2014 qualified an initiative to repeal the automatic inflation adjustment that was included in a three cents per-gallon state gas tax increase in 2013. The initiative won with 53 percent of the vote.

"Under California law, the Attorney General has 65 days [from May 4] to write a title and summary of the initiative for the November 2018 ballot, and the initiative's proponents have 150 days to gather 365,880 valid CA signatures to qualify the Repeal for the November 2018 ballot," according to PR Newswire.

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Published on Thursday, May 4, 2017 in The Sacramento Bee - Capitol Alert
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