Capitol Alert

Gas tax repeal would strip California lawmakers’ ability to pass increases

Critics of California’s recently approved fuel tax increase and vehicle license fee hike filed a constitutional amendment Thursday for the 2018 ballot to overturn the taxes and take away lawmakers’ ability to pass future increases without a statewide vote.

“Sacramento politicians really crossed the line with these massive car and gas tax hikes and we intend to give taxpayers the chance to reverse that decision with this initiative,” Carl DeMaio, chairman of the coalition Reform California and a former San Diego councilman, said in a statement.

Separately, DeMaio is involved in a pending recall attempt of Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman, a freshman lawmaker from Orange County, for his vote earlier this year on Senate Bill 1, the tax and fee increase to raise some $52 billion over a decade to pay for aging roads and transit systems.

The group collected more than 100,000 signatures to force the recall. Reform California must gather about 580,000 signatures to qualify a ballot measure that would prevent the Democratic-controlled Legislature from passing a fuel tax increase without a vote of the people.

“Once we qualify this initiative for the ballot, 2018 will be remembered as the year we had another taxpayer revolt in California – where the outrageous car and gas taxes were reversed by voters and the politicians that enacted those tax hikes are punished at the ballot box,” DeMaio added.

Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach and a candidate for California governor, has proposed his own ballot initiative that would repeal Senate Bill 1.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who helped push the bill, criticized the latest move to ensure its undoing.

“I can’t believe the proponents of this ballot measure really want Californians to keep driving on lousy roads and dangerous bridges,” he said. “Taking billions of dollars a year from road maintenance and repair borders on insanity.”

The coalition that helped pass the bill also pledged an aggressive and well-funded defense.

“While Congress has repeatedly failed to act, California finally passed a historic measure to invest in fixing roads, repairing unsafe bridges, and reducing traffic congestion,” Lucy Dunn, president and chief executive of the Orange County Business Council, said in a statement. “This measure, which won’t be voted on for a year if it goes forward, will have the effect of halting billions of dollars worth of local road repair and improvement projects mid-stream. It will kick people off the job site and completely leave road construction in disarray.”

“We know Californians overwhelmingly want their roads repaired and voters will oppose this measure when they learn it will stop thousands of needed traffic relief improvements around the state, including road repairs in their communities,” she added. “We urge our friends in Congress to put a stop to this effort.”

Republican strategists view the fuel tax as a potent election-year issue that could help the party’s shrinking ranks recover in contests up and down the ballot by injection a burst of anti-tax momentum.

A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll taken in June found that California voters overwhelmingly opposed tax and fee package pushed by Brown and the Legislature. Fifty-eight percent of voters opposed SB 1 while just 35 percent favor the law, which raises taxes on gasoline and diesel and hikes vehicle registration fees to fix roads and highways.

The 12-cent gas tax increase begins in November, along with the new fee based on a motorist’s vehicle values.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago