Capitol Alert

Gas tax opponents say California is trying to undermine them

Eric Henry gases up his car in Sacramento on March 7, 2014.
Eric Henry gases up his car in Sacramento on March 7, 2014. The Associated Press

Opponents of a gas tax increase passed this spring to pay for road repairs in California are on the verge of their first victory in a campaign to repeal the measure.

A Sacramento County Superior Court judge tentatively ruled this week that state Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a misleading title and summary for an initiative to reverse the tax hike that Assemblyman Travis Allen is trying to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

“The court agrees with Petitioner that the Attorney General’s title and summary is confusing, misleading, and likely to create prejudice against the proposed measure,” Judge Timothy M. Frawley wrote. “The problem with the Attorney General’s title and summary is that an ordinary, reasonable elector, who is otherwise unfamiliar with the initiative, would not be able to discern what the initiative would do.”

Allen, a Huntington Beach Republican, launched his repeal effort in May, a month after lawmakers approved Senate Bill 1. The $5.2 billion annual package, pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democratic leaders, raises the per-gallon tax on transportation fuels and creates a new vehicle registration fee to pay for road maintenance, public transit and other projects.

The proposed initiative already faces long odds: Allen must gather nearly 366,000 signatures to get his measure on the ballot, where his grassroots campaign would encounter opposition from an alliance of business groups, organized labor and the state’s ruling Democrats.

But Allen argues that Becerra tried to stack the deck even further against him by writing a description – “Eliminates recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing revenues dedicated for those purposes” – that would dissuade voters from signing the petition by obscuring its main objective of undoing new taxes and fees.

Becerra, who was appointed by Brown in December, denies any bias in the title and summary.

The two sides will come together for a hearing, 9 a.m. at the Sacramento County Courthouse on 9th Street, before Frawley issues a final ruling. If his tentative conclusion to require a new title and summary stands, it would be a rare rebuke for the attorney general’s office, which generally receives deference in complaints over initiative descriptions.

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WORTH REPEATNG: “Making misleading statements aimed at our children is...morally wrong and a betrayal of trust.” - Becerra, after Gatorade agreed to pay $300,000 for disparaging water in a video game

THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES: The California Nurses Association, the state’s biggest cheerleader for a single-payer health care system, has some friends in high places. Fresh off the introduction of his “Medicare For All” proposal for a national health system, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will appear at the nurses union’s 2017 convention in San Francisco, delivering a public speech at 1 p.m. in the Yerba Buena Gardens. Earlier in the day, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is also set to address attendees, 9:30 a.m. at the Marriott Marquis hotel. The nurses very early on endorsed Newsom in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

LE FIN: Gov. Jerry Brown wraps up his whirlwind climate tour of the northeast this week with a visit to our neighbor to the north. Brown will meet with the premiers of two Canadian provinces that have participated in California’s cap-and-trade auctionsPhilippe Couillard of Quebec and Kathleen Wynne of Ontario – to discuss further collaborations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 9:45 a.m. at the Centre des congrès de Québec.

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ONE TRIBE: California tribes will host a daylong celebration at the Capitol for the 50th anniversary of “California Native American Day,” honoring the community’s historic and cultural contributions to the Golden State. This year’s event is themed “Tribal Sovereignty: Sovereigns Working Together,” in recognition of the cooperation between tribal governments and state officials. The event, which takes place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the south steps, includes cultural dancers, tule reed demonstrations, basket art, food vendors, and special tributes for tribal elders and veterans. Becerra is scheduled to speak at 10:45 a.m.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, who is 46 today, and early well wishes to Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, who turns 40 tomorrow.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff