Gov. Jerry Brown is leaving office after the midterms, but the California Democrat plans on engaging in one last brutal campaign to defend an extremely unpopular gas tax he approved in 2017.
Brown is pledging to raise $25 million in a campaign to fight the repeal effort. He is also soliciting help from business and labor leaders, who view the gas tax as an instrument to build up California’s roads. Supporters of the repeal are eager to knock it around with the 80-year-old governor.
“This has nothing to do with taxes,” Brown said of Prop 6, which seeks to repeal a gas tax the governor passed in April 2017. “This is engineered by the Republican congressional delegation to prop up their vulnerable Republicans,” he said in a June 6 interview with The New York Times.
The Road Repair and Accountability Act imposes a 12-cents-a-gallon increase on Californians and raises the tax on diesel fuel by 20 cents a gallon. It also implements an additional charge to annual vehicle license fees ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the car’s value. The measure gained has become a hot-button issue in the Golden State.
California currently ranks seventh highest in the country when it comes to total taxes and fees, according to figures calculated by the American Petroleum Institute. And the recent increase makes California the second-highest gas tax in the country behind Pennsylvania. The state’s gas tax would increase from 40 to 52 cents per gallon (cpg).
Nearly 46 percent of likely voters said they would vote to repeal the law and 33 percent said they would vote to keep it, while 22 percent are undecided, according to a SurveyUSA poll in June. Former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat campaigning for California’s governor’s mansion, publicly announced his support for the tax increase during a gubernatorial debate in May.
The tax was sold to the voters to help repair roads, but recent reports show the bulk of the revenue is going toward other programs. (RELATED: Here’s Why Californians Pay Way More For Gasoline Than Everyone Else)
The California State Transportation Agency announced in April grants to recipients for some $2.6 billion of the transit funding raised through the law. The awards include $28.6 million for 40 electric buses and $40.5 million for light-rail vehicles in Sacramento.
Nearly 28 projects were awarded cash from the gas tax increase. None of them involves road upkeep, and that is not sitting well with supporters of the repeal.
The gas tax is “killing the working class of this state,” Carl DeMaio, a former Republican congressman in San Diego who is spearheading the repeal process, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“It started off with a recall of Josh Newman,” DeMaio said, referring to the successful campaign to recall state Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat in Southern California who supported the tax. “Jerry Brown was shocked. He didn’t think we were going to get the signatures for a recall. But we did. Then we went for the repeal.”
He added: “Either get on board or continue to be irrelevant.”
Analysts believe Brown and the Democrats will have to reconfigure the narrative if they intend on saving the law.
“If it’s talked about as the gas tax, I don’t see how it survives,” Robert Shrum, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, told reporters. “You have to talk about it in terms of safe bridges, a decent road system, the economic future and jobs.”
Brown, a veteran politician with several decades of experience defending unpopular initiatives, appears to understand that the measure can’t win-out unless he changes public perception. “They don’t give a damn about the roads in California,” Brown said of Republicans and advocates of repeal. He crafted a similar narrative while campaigning for the initiative’s passage.
“The Republicans in Sacramento want to fix our roads,” Brown said during a legislative session in October 2017, but “they expect the tooth fairy to pay the $5 billion every year.” The tactic worked to goad California lawmakers to pass the measure, but that was back when gas prices were lower than they are now.
California gas prices are spiking. The average price for regular fuel is $3.66 a gallon in the state, far above the national average of $2.80, according to figures compiled by the AAA. A gallon of gas cost roughly $3.00 a gallon when legislators passed the tax. The 66 cpg increase is not sitting well with Californians and they are putting legislators on notice.
Opponents of Brown’s law managed to place a voter referendum on the November ballot to repeal the gas tax. It would reportedly lower the price of gasoline in the state to $2 a gallon by 2021, Politico reported in May. Republicans have now collected more than 1 million signatures, even though only 365,880 were needed to put it on the ballot.
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