California Gas-Tax Repeal Organizers See Rallying Point for GOP Voters

Ballot initiative would repeal tax hikes

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Organizers of a measure to overturn a 12-cent gas tax in California are expanding their campaign to shine a spotlight on government waste and abuse in transportation spending in the Golden State, an effort they hope will boost GOP turn-out efforts in the fall’s elections.

The campaign to repeal the state’s latest tax hike on filling up at the pump is fresh off two wins. The repeal campaign qualified for the Nov. 6 ballot in June and earlier in the month successfully recalled Orange County state Sen. Josh Newman, whose election handed state Democrats a supermajority and who voted in favor of the gas tax hike.

The campaign has filed 16 public records requests related to transportation government waste in the last few weeks in an effort to counter arguments by Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democrats that the $5 billion-dollar revenue stream is desperately needed to fix deteriorating roads and bridges.

Carl DeMaio, a conservative radio talk show host in San Diego and former city council member for the city, is spearheading the gas tax repeal. Recently, he has also been targeting the six-figure salaries of bus drivers and other employees of local transit systems on his radio show to demonstrate that the money is being misused.

The research initiative started when a whistleblower provided documents showing that a local transit bus driver in the San Francisco area earned $227,181 last year, DeMaio said.

"The waste and abuse of taxpayer funds in state and local transportation agencies is staggering," DeMaio said in a statement. "While Sacramento politicians are raising the cost-of-living for taxpayers with the massive gas and car tax hikes, they are turning a blind eye to wasteful spending in CALTRANS and other local transportation programs."

CALTRANS is the acronym for California’s Department of Transportation.

Repealing the gas tax has attracted the support of prominent national Republicans who are convinced the campaign will help turn out conservative voters fed up with paying both higher gas taxes and also higher auto-registration fees, which are increasing by as much as $175 a year under the law. 

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) recently cut a check for $50,000 from his congressional campaign committee and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) has donated another $25,000. Give Voters a Voice, the political group that gathered the signatures to place the repeal effort on the ballot, has collected more than $2.3 million total.

Public polls have consistently shown that California voters do not like the gas-tax increase, which took effect last November. UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental studies late last year found that 52 percent of all likely voters would support a ballot initiative repealing the state’s increases in taxes and vehicle-license fees, with 46 percent saying they "strongly support" repealing the charges.

Republican voters overwhelmingly back a repeal, with 80 percent indicating that they would vote to rescind the gas tax.

DeMaio warns that his campaign will be far outspent as the November election nears and argued that Brown is already using government resources to support his position that the tax increases were needed to fix crumbling roads and bridges.

For instance, CALTRANS has erected 100 signs throughout the state touting highway and road-construction projects paid for by new money from the gas tax. DeMaio says the signs cost $700 to $1,500 each.

Now, DeMaio says Brown is planning to use an official Democratic voter guide, paid for by the California Democratic Party, to bash the gas-tax repeal campaign and argue that it will make roads unsafe and cause more car accidents and deaths.

"Brown and his tax-raising bullies basically say that he we vote YES [on the ballot measure], the repeal the gas/car tax hikes, people will die in car wrecks because of unsafe road conditions, and bridges will collapse," DeMaio said in an email to supporters Tuesday. "Can you imagine what his graphic TV ads will be like?"

"Brown has millions to spend on ads with these lies and scare tactics … and the media will give him a pass," argued DeMaio, who points to several instances in which the Democratic-controlled state legislature has used gas-tax money to fill non-transportation spending shortfalls.

Brown has already held several events in recent months aimed at trying to change voters’ minds and convince them the gas tax is needed and should be kept intact.

Just days before the June 6 primary, Brown joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as well as California Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters and Ted Lieu for a ceremony launching the construction of a terminal for LA Metro’s light-rail extension, a project paid in part by the new gas tax.

It was Brown's third gas-tax related event in two weeks. DeMaio and other conservative organizers of the repeal say they expect far more as the fall campaign nears.

Susan Crabtree

Susan Crabtree   Email Susan | Full Bio | RSS
Susan Crabtree is a senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. She is a veteran Washington reporter who has covered the White House and Congress over the past two decades. She has written for the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, the Hill newspaper, Roll Call, and Congressional Quarterly.

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