Poll portends tough sledding for California gas tax increase

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The recent gas tax hike in California enacted to fund transportation projects could face tough sledding in the face of a repeal effort.

Likely voters were nearly evenly split on the issue with 47% saying they favor repeal, while 48% said they oppose it, in a poll released Feb. 7 by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The creator of the initiative to repeal a gas tax hike and vehicle fee increase approved by the state legislature last year to support transportation projects said signature gathering efforts are right on track.

“We just crested 500,000 and are well on the way to our goal of 700,000 to 750,000 by April,” said Carl Demaio, a radio host and former San Diego council member.

The gas tax repeal initiative needs 584,000 valid voters' signatures by May to qualify for November’s ballot. It would amend the state Constitution to reverse the tax hikes and strip state politicians of the power to raise car and gas taxes in the future without a vote of the people.

Such a repeal would wipe out the $5.2 billion the new taxes raise annually for road and bridge repairs and expanded mass transit.

“In the past four weeks, we haven’t had any paid effort on the street and we have been able to get a tremendous number of signatures from our volunteer base,” DeMaio said.

Gas stations in Encinitas and Carlsbad, cities in the San Diego metro region, lowered gas prices to $2.49 a gallon and $1.99 a gallon for several hours Feb. 5 to bring in petition signers. Though DeMaio said customers were not required to sign the petition, he said, that most did.

The gas tax increased to 30 cents per gallon from 18, on Nov. 1, and vehicle registration increases of at least $25 kicked in Jan. 1.

The radio show host said he thinks the states’ roads and highways need to be repaired, but claims money for such projects have been diverted to pay for bike lanes and urban mass transit projects. He added that if the existing gas tax money went to the projects it was intended for there would be enough.

Proponents say that the amount of money raised through the existing gas has decreased as vehicles have become more fuel efficient.

The repeal has support from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an anti-tax organization, and two Republican candidates for governor, John Cox, a businessman, and State Assemblyman Travis Allen, who represents Huntington Beach.

The governor promised to fight to preserve the gas tax in his Jan. 25 State of the State speech.

“I will do anything in my power to defeat any repeal effort that gets on the ballot, you can depend on that,” Brown said.

In his proposed budget released in January, Brown proposed spending $4.6 billion from the gas tax to repair roads, highways and bridges, improve commute corridors and improve local rail and public transit systems. Seven in 10 Californians and 65% of likely voters are in favor of that aspect of the spending plan, according to PPIC’s poll. But 80% of Democrats favored the proposed spending compared to 40% of Republicans and 68% of Independents, according to the poll.

The California Association of Counties warned that repealing the gas tax could make it difficult for the state to compete or receive funding under the Trump Administration’s infrastructure funding plan released earlier this week.

Trump's plan focuses heavily on the ability of states and local governments to provide substantial local funding to receive a share of federal funds.

“In light of the President’s proposal, the Republican politicians behind the repeal effort should drop their harmful ballot initiative, and work with us to ensure California gets its fair share of transportation funding," said Matt Cate, executive director of the California Association of Counties.

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Gasoline tax Infrastructure Transportation industry California