Proposition 6 is an initiative measure appearing on the ballot less than one month from now that would repeal the tax hike on gasoline and cars imposed by Sacramento politicians last year without a vote of the people. If Prop. 6 passes, California’s gas and car tax would still be in the top five among all 50 states.
Supporters of Prop. 6, those advocating for the repeal of the tax hikes, have focused their campaign on several compelling points including California’s overall tax burden (highest income tax rate and state sales tax rate in the nation) and California’s high cost of living. Other arguments favoring Prop. 6 include the well-documented waste of taxpayer dollars spent on transportation, the lack of any reforms and a decades-long history of diverting transportation dollars away from roads and highways.
The Yes on Proposition 6 campaign is being advanced by a coalition of grassroots taxpayer organizations and the state’s Republican Party. It has virtually no big corporate support.
The opponents of Proposition 6, those who desire to retain our status as a high-tax state, consist of interests that benefit financially from public construction projects. These include construction companies, labor organizations and local governments who thirst for ever more taxpayer dollars. They have contributed tens of millions of dollars to the opposition campaign for an obvious reason. The millions they invest in a political campaign produce a great return on investment if the payoff is more than $5 billion of new taxpayer spending annually.
It is apparent at this point that the opponents of the gas tax repeal will outspend supporters by a 10-to-1 margin.
But the tactics of the opposition campaign have put it in hot water. Last week, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, requested a federal investigation from the Office of the Inspector General for multiple violations of state and federal law regarding the use of taxpayer dollars to openly campaign against Prop. 6. There is also a pending investigation from California’s Fair Political Practices Commission on the same issue.
In addition to the instances of illegal activity, the campaign against Prop. 6 has engaged in political messaging that is simply strange. For example, an expensive glossy mailer distributed throughout California features a firefighter — in full firefighting regalia — on the cover claiming that Prop. 6 jeopardizes public safety. The claim, of course, is laughable. If Prop. 6 passes, there will remain more than enough revenue to handle critical safety issues as they relate to bridges and highways.
It raises the question of why California’s leaders haven’t addressed the safety of roads and bridges with the prodigious amount of general fund revenue that the state has enjoyed in recent years. Perhaps the answer is that the opponents of Prop. 6 know that it is indefensible that California has seen an increase in the state’s general fund spending of $36 billion in the last six years and not one dollar has gone to roads and highways.
So why feature a firefighter on a political mail piece where the core issues are taxation and transportation? Simple. It polls well, no matter how irrelevant or inaccurate.
But even here, opponents of Prop. 6 might have made an unforced error. The firefighter who appears on the cover is a union leader who collected more than $327,000 last year in total compensation from California taxpayers.
While firefighters deserve our respect for their difficult and dangerous job, the public perception of using such a highly paid public servant to campaign against an effort to save taxpayers from a punishing tax increase is bound to generate a negative backlash.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.