Capitol Alert

Gas tax increase sparks campaign against two Democrats

California Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, right, speaks in Sacramento on Oct. 18, 2017, about his decision to spend “significant” money on an effort to repeal California's newly passed gas and diesel tax increase. Cox is joined by Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, at left.
California Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, right, speaks in Sacramento on Oct. 18, 2017, about his decision to spend “significant” money on an effort to repeal California's newly passed gas and diesel tax increase. Cox is joined by Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, at left. AP

Let the gas tax wars begin.

Joining a pair of 2018 ballot initiative campaigns to repeal the gas tax, an independent expenditure committee is dropping radio ads against two Democratic lawmakers for their votes in support of Senate Bill 1, the $5.2 billion a year fuel and vehicle registration increase that takes effect Wednesday.

The ads, paid for by Family Farmers Working for a Better California, are against Assemblymen Joaquin Arambula of Fresno and Eduardo Garcia of Coachella. The lawmakers are on the hot seat for their votes to direct billions of dollars toward road and transportation improvements via a 12-cent increase in the base gasoline excise tax and an annual vehicle fee.

Both ads accuse the men of not “thinking about us” while enjoying lavish perks from their jobs in Sacramento.

Rob Stutzman, the consultant running the information campaign, characterized the effort as a broad cross section of the agricultural industry putting lawmakers “on notice that they cannot continue to vote against the interests of farmers and farmworkers without the industry pushing back.”

The separate measures to repeal the gas tax, which is central to the Republican Party’s effort to drive up turnout and hang onto swing seats next year, are being led by the GOP’s choices for governor: Assemblyman Travis Allen and businessman John Cox. The latter’s measure is backed by GOP members of Congress and taxpayer groups.

The tax has also sparked a recall campaign against Democratic Sen. Josh Newman, who won in an upset last year in an Orange County district that Republicans covet. Last month, major backers of recently approved gas tax and vehicle registration fee increases sent letters to the Republican House delegation threatening political repercussions if its 14 members join a campaign to overturn the road repair funding plan.

Despite the warning over repercussions, the majority of California’s Republican congressional delegation said it will support an initiative to repeal the bill.

Here’s a look at the increases:

Existing: The base excise tax is 18 cents a gallon. A separate price-based excise tax is set at 9.8 cents a gallon, for a total rate of 27.8 cents a gallon.

Nov. 1: The base excise tax will increase to 30 cents a gallon.

July 1, 2019: The price-based excise tax will reset to 17.3 cents a gallon, about half-a-cent more than the rate the Brown administration projects will be in effect by then anyway.

The 47.3-cent combined excise tax in effect July 1, 2019, will be adjusted for inflation beginning July 1, 2020.

Average annual revenue: $2.4 billion

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Christopher Cadelago: @ccadelago

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