Tax Revolt! Gas Tax Repeal Makes the November Ballot
State Sen. Josh Newman Recalled from Office over His Vote for the Tax Hike
Outraged California taxpayers signed petitions by the hundreds of thousands to repeal the gas and car tax increase signed into law last year, and also to amend the constitution so future tax increases on fuel and vehicle registration may only be enacted with voter approval.
The measure now known as Proposition 6 needed approximately 585,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot and cleared that bar easily. Petitions with almost a million total signatures were turned in to county officials throughout the state seeking to repeal Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), which sharply raised taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel and hiked the cost of registering vehicles.
Although Governor Jerry Brown groused that beleaguered taxpayers were “freeloaders,” the rage over the tax increase was powerful enough to unseat a state senator that Brown, state lawmakers and even California’s supposedly nonpartisan election watchdog agency tried mightily to save.
After he cast a decisive vote for SB 1 in 2017, Orange County Senator Josh Newman was hit with a recall effort that rapidly collected the signatures needed to trigger an election. However, Sacramento lawmakers changed the law regarding recall elections to retroactively make it more difficult to verify signatures. When that law was successfully challenged in court by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, lawmakers quickly passed a similar law to replace it.
The law imposed delays that had the effect of stalling the recall election until it could be consolidated with the June 2018 primary.
Newman’s fundraising effort to fend off the recall got an assist from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission when the commissioners disregarded precedent and the advice of the professional staff and decided to lift a cap on campaign contributions from Newman’s fellow Democratic senators.
Despite the gamesmanship, voters in Senate District 29 recalled Josh Newman from office by a margin of nearly 60 percent to 40 percent and replaced him with former Assembly Member Ling Ling Chang.
The tax revolt is on.
The campaign to pass Proposition 6, the gas tax repeal initiative, held organizing meetings throughout the summer in preparation for a fierce fight against the special interests that are battling to keep the higher taxes on the books.
“Californians pay the highest taxes in the nation,” said HJTA President Jon Coupal, “and higher gas and car taxes are the wrong way to pay for long overdue road repairs. Money that California drivers already paid to fix the roads has been diverted to other priorities. That’s just wrong.”
The higher taxes on gasoline and car registration directly raise the cost of living in California, which already has the highest poverty rate in the country, over 20 percent, when the cost of living is taken into account. Higher taxes on diesel fuel — SB 1 raised the tax on a gallon of diesel by 20 cents — raise the price of everything that is transported by truck. Rising food prices in California are directly attributable to the higher cost of transportation.
Although SB 1 raised taxes with the promise that the money would be used for road repair, about 30 percent of the revenue raised by the taxes is designated for other transportation priorities, including public transit, bike lanes and walk paths. And the law includes not one reform to address the well-documented waste at the California Department of Transportation, which in 2016 was presented with the Independent Institute’s California Golden Fleece Award for its waste of billions of taxpayer dollars while at the same time demanding more funding.
The California State Auditor has repeatedly cited Caltrans for a lack of cost controls, leaving the agency’s projects vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse.
Supporters of Proposition 6 say there is a better way to fund repairs and maintenance of the state’s transportation infrastructure. Assembly Bill 496, authored by Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, would have used existing transportation-related revenues to fix the roads instead of raising taxes. For example, the bill would have required the sales tax revenue from the sales of vehicles to be spent on transportation, instead of going into the General Fund for lawmakers to spend on other priorities, or pet projects.
A proposal similar to AB 496 could be reconsidered if voters approve Proposition 6 to repeal the gas and car tax.
A broad coalition of taxpayer advocates, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is supporting Proposition 6. More information can be found at VoteYesOnProp6.com, GasTaxRepeal.org and VoteForProp6.com.