Voter Backlash Expected From Gas Tax Hike

There's a reason it can take decades to increase gas taxes — and many California legislators may soon found out why in November 2018, if not earlier. On November 1 of this year, state gas taxes will increase 12 cents per gallon.

3 minute read

June 12, 2017, 9:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Gas Pump

Carolyn Franks / Shutterstock

"People up and down the Golden State — and all but the most liberal of Democrats — are against the gas tax that the Legislature narrowly passed in April, according to a new poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies," reports Katy Murphy of the Bay Area News Group.

Fifty-eight percent of registered voters oppose the tax, while 35 percent favor it and seven percent have no opinion, the poll found.

Now there's also a separate effort to rescind the 12-cent gas tax increase (posted here last month), as well as the other taxes and fees in the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (aka SB 1) that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on April 28.

If petitioners qualify the ballot, it will appear on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot, alongside vulnerable legislators, all Democrats, who voted for the tax increase. Murphy calls the chances of the repeal initiative qualifying as a "long-shot," presumably because it will need major financial backing. The more serious threat rests with vulnerable legislators.

No doubt, some of these legislators will be in peril in 2018,” said Larry Gerston, a political science professor emeritus at San Jose State. “It’s happened before — you go out on a limb and you pay for it.”

For at least one legislator, the backlash is so intense that voters may have their say before November 2018.

"The recall of freshman state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) has gotten off to a strong start in making the ballot, with recall proponents announcing Friday, June 2, that they’d collected more than half of the 63,592 signatures needed in the first month of circulating petitions," reports Martin Wisckol for the Orange County Register. Newman's district spans Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

They have until Oct. 16 to finish the job, which would mean a November or December special recall election.

Critics of the [gas tax] plan are targeting the Fullerton Democrat because of his narrow upset victory in November. They see Newman as the state Senate Democrat most vulnerable to being beat by a Republican.

Should Newman fail to hold his seat, the Democrats would lose their supermajority control of the legislature which is what made the gas tax hike possible as tax increases are largely a partisan issue in California. [Only one Republican voted for SB 1, and he is termed-out, and only one Democrat opposed it]. Perhaps that helps explain why "Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate Leader Kevin de Leon have vowed to provide Newman with the campaign resources to beat back a recall," adds Wisckol.

Odds in favor of legislators surviving

Two recent studies conducted by the Transportation Investment Advocacy Center, a project of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, looked at how legislators who voted for gas tax hikes fared in primaries and general elections: 98 percent and 91 percent, respectively, were successful.

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