California Gas Tax Repeal Provokes Internecine Republican Conflict

Chances for a repeal of California's 12-cents gas tax increase have doubled in that two measures aim to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. The initiatives are opposed by the state's major business groups that usually side with Republican causes.
October 25, 2017, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Martin Froyda

"Business groups are threatening to wage a pricey campaign to stop California’s Republican officials from trying to repeal a new state gas tax—warning them not to 'create new political adversaries,'" reports Judy Lin for CALmatters on Oct. 11. "But the politicians aren’t flinching."

Republican party activists are hoping that new fuel taxes and vehicle fees in SB 1 will encourage Californians to sign petitions for one or both repeal drives.

Gas taxes jump 12-cents per gallon on Nov. 1; diesel by 20-cents.  On January 1, 2018, a new, variable "transportation improvement fee" between $25 and $175, based on vehicle value, takes effect. The new fees and taxes are indexed for inflation. 

Repeals recently enacted gas and diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees. Eliminates road repair and transportation programs funded by these taxes and fees.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra's assigned title indicated that the measure only ended "road repair and transportation funding" but failed to note that it also repealed the taxes responsible for those revenues. Becerra is appealing the ruling.  

  • The second repeal initiative appears to be taken more seriously be those who support the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 because it has money behind it. It is spearheaded by "talk radio host and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, whose Reform California group is part of a coalition behind the effort," reports Martin Wisckol for the Orange County Register on Sept. 14.
Allen’s measure would be statutory law requiring 360,000 valid voter signatures while DeMaio’s would be a constitutional amendment requiring 585,000 signatures. Allen’s could be subject to tinkering by the Legislature, according to DeMaio, while constitutional amendments cannot be changed without voter approval.

"The GOP’s goal: rally conservatives and cut across party lines by inciting a taxpayer revolt," adds Lin of CALmatters. "Success would boost turnout and improve prospects for Republicans in other races."

So far, the two campaigns show no indication of joining forces. Allen said he’s reached out to DeMaio, but DeMaio said, “I like my initiatives to be airtight and legally defensible.”

Reform California is also behind the recall effort of Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) because of his vote for the gas tax bill.

Opposing the repeal initiatives is the group, Fix our Roads, which include groups that usually side with Republican interests, some of whom expressed their displeasure with the initiative's backers in a Sept. 14 press release.

This initiative is apparently an attempt by some California Congressional Republicans to place the measure on the November 2018 ballot in an effort to improve Republican turnout.

While Congress has repeatedly failed to act, California finally passed a historic measure to invest in fixing roads, repairing unsafe bridges, and reducing traffic congestion,” said Lucy Dunn, president and CEO of Orange County Business Council. “This measure – which won’t be voted on for a year if it goes forward – will have the effect of halting billions of dollars worth of local road repair and improvement projects mid-stream. It will kick people off the job site and completely leave road construction in disarray.

While repeal proponents oppose the tax increase, they also take another, somewhat hypocritical stab at the gas tax by claiming "voters will become disillusioned when they find out none of the money will go toward building additional freeway lanes to reduce congestion," adds Lin. If the new funding package was titled "New Road Construction" rather than the "Road Repair Act," would the GOP legislators still have voted against it?

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Published on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 in CALmatters
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