Organizers for the campaign to repeal California's latest gas-tax increase are hitting back at opponents who say eliminating the tax hike would pose a danger to public safety by cutting funding for road and bridge projects across the state.
Carl DeMaio, who is spearheading the gas-tax repeal proposition, says that Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento have long misused previous gas-tax funds and are now asking the state's taxpayers to pay some of the highest gas prices in the nation to continue funding the government largesse.
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Southern California gas prices remain at their highest in three years, averaging $3.83 a gallon in Orange County and $3.88 a gallon in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area, according to the Auto Club of Southern California. That's nearly a $1 more than the national average of $2.91 a gallon.
Roughly 70 cents per gallon of that price is taxes, an increase of 12 cents for the latest tax increase Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democrat-controlled legislature pushed through last year.
By July, it will be 76.7 cents per gallon in taxes, coming within one cent of the highest gasoline tax burden in the country, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation, a think tank that studies tax policy.
Just weeks before California voters head to the polls to decide whether to repeal the gas tax, DeMaio began a gas tax "waste and abuse" tour of the state in Orange County.
Standing next to a freeway in Placentia, Calif., Tuesday, DeMaio released government documents showing that Orange County's Transportation Authority spent $6,528 each on signs promoting the gas-tax hike.
He also cited documents showing that more than 114 bus drivers in Orange County make more than $100,000 a year in total compensation.
"These signs seem to have popped up just in time for this election. We're not fools. These people have stolen the gas tax year after year and they want us to pay more," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "They haven't earned our money. We need to have wholesale reform at [the California Transportation department]. They are a big, giant sinkhole for our taxpayer dollars."
In Los Angeles on Wednesday, DeMaio said he plans to highlight documents showing that Los Angeles County used gas-tax funds to purchase buses from a Chinese company at a cost of $1.7 million each. When those buses broke down because they couldn't handle steep inclines, the county spent an additional $65 million on the same buses. In contrast, he said, a "clean, natural-gas bus" costs $300,000 each.
"They outsourced their electric buses to a Chinese company and when those buses broke down, they turned around and bought $65 million more worth of the same buses," he said.
"Our existing gas-tax funds are being wasted and we demand that these revelations of bloated bureaucracies, excessive salaries and compensation, and outrageous expenditures be immediately reformed before we give these people any more of our taxpayer dollars," he noted.
A spokesman for the California Transportation Department, or CALTRANS, deferred questions about decisions made by county transportation departments to them. He said he would need more time to respond to the questions raised about the number of CALTRANS' workers who make more than $100,000.
The Orange County Transportation Authority, or OCTA, did not respond to a request for comment.
DeMaio accused the transportation department of misusing taxpayer dollars to install large signs along freeways and roads declaring "Your Tax Dollars at Work" announcing future road projects or taking credit for projects already completed.
The signs, he said, are stirring controversy because their sudden appearances over the last year appear to be a "thinly veiled attempt to campaign against Prop 6 using taxpayer funds."
DeMaio points to an Orange County Transportation Authority or OCTA contracting document called a "change order," showing that the county paid a total of $32,644 for the design, creation and installation of five of these "Your Tax Dollars at Work" signs this year.
In addition, the OCTA has 43 employees that earn $100,000 or more in total compensation, including benefits, and 15 employees earning more than $300,000. The OCTA's CEO receives $519,201 in total annual compensation, the documents show.
Across the state, CALTRANS has 11,256 employees making $100,000 or more in total compensation when Including overtime and benefits, 57 percent of its labor force. Documents show that the OCTA is paying an executive assistant $173,808 in total compensation each year, while six other executive assistants are making $100,000 or more each. One OCTA bus driver is making $133,460 while 113 others are taking in $100,000 each, the documents show.
Additionally, DeMaio pointed to another document showing that OCTA spent $240,000 on the purchase, installation, reconfiguration, and maintenance of office furniture.
He also cited a finding by the Legislative Analyst's Office, which provides fiscal and policy advice to the state legislature, saying that CALTRANS has overstaffed one of its transportation infrastructure programs by more than 1,000 positions, equal to roughly 10 percent of program's 10,319 authorized positions.
"Despite this, CALTRANs has recently announced plans to hire more staff!" DeMaio said in his report.
All the documents DeMaio cited were obtained through California's Open Public Records Act (CPRA) process.