Look past the deceptive labeling on Proposition 6

When it comes to protecting consumers, the federal government comes down hard on companies that engage in deceptive labeling on things we consume.  The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), enacted in 1967, directs the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration to issue regulations requiring that all “consumer commodities” be labeled to disclose net contents, identity of commodity, and name and place of business of the product’s manufacturer, packer, or distributor.”

If only such rules applied to California ballot measures, and especially for Proposition 6.  Prop. 6 would do two simple things.  First, it would repeal the wildly unpopular increases in the gas and car taxes imposed by the Legislature last year.  Second, it would require that, in the future, any increase in the gas or car tax be approved by the voters.  That’s it.

Polling on Prop. 6, when described simply as to what is does, shows that it is very popular and should easily prevail at the polls. Voters see last year’s tax hikes as horribly punishing to the middle class and, while all Californians desire good roads, the passage of 6 would simply mean a return to the status quo where California has the fifth-highest gas tax in the nation. Opponents of Prop. 6 have never satisfactorily answered the simple question of why is that not enough.

Because repeal of the car and gas tax is popular, opponents have engaged in blatantly illegal activity as well as mounted a campaign of lies so brazen even Pinocchio would blush. But beyond that, the first coup by the enemies of California taxpayers was getting a ballot label assigned to Prop. 6 that doesn’t convey at all that it is a repeal of last year’s tax hikes. Rather, it ominously states that Prop. 6 would “eliminate certain transportation funding.” This label is blatantly deceptive for two reasons. First, it is not specific what funding is at issue — might voters think that all our road funds would disappear — and second, there is no mention of the repeal of last year’s tax hikes.

The ballot label is important because, for those voters who do little or no research before stepping into the voting booth, it may be the only thing they read. It’s important that the label convey in the clearest manner possible what the proposal would do. Obviously, that did not happen here.

Prop. 6 is opposed by what should be called the “government-industrial complex,” those interests which, in one way or another survive on the tax revenue generated by productive Californians. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who seems obsessed with suing the federal government, is a part of that complex. He is the one charged with writing what is supposed to be a fair and impartial ballot label. But, as a champion of big government, he sees no problem with saddling drivers with over $50 billion in new taxes over the next 10 years. Impartiality be damned.

The government-industrial complex will outspend the grassroots efforts of the Yes on 6 campaign by at least 9 to 1.  Opponents have also used public tax dollars for their disinformation campaign, a clear violation of both state and federal law.  Finally, state agencies, especially Caltrans, have worked hand-in-glove with the Prop. 6 opposition campaign consultants to gin up public sector employees to defeat Proposition 6 and even go so far as to threaten members of Congress who opposed the tax hikes last year and who now support Proposition 6’s repeal of those taxes.  The hope for proponents is simply that voters look beyond the ballot label and understand it simply repeals last year’s unfair and burdensome tax hike.  If they do, Prop. 6 will pass and California might take its first step back to fiscal sanity.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.