Push begins to overturn new California gas tax

A fresh effort has been launched to reverse Gov. Jerry Brown’s fuel and vehicle tax deal, passed narrowly in Sacramento on the strength of a series of sharply criticized side deals. “Only one Republican – state Sen. Anthony Cannella – voted in favor of SB1, and that was after his Central Valley district received $500 million for a commuter rail extension and completion of a parkway to the University of California, Merced,” the Washington Times recalled. Now, one GOP lawmaker critical of the deal has set out to tap public frustration against the tax law. 

“Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, filed paperwork last week seeking a 2018 ballot measure to overturn SB1, a 10-year, $52.4 billion transportation funding bill narrowly passed by the Legislature in April,” the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported. “The bill, also known as the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, raises the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon, boosts taxes on diesel fuel and imposes new annual fees on vehicles to tackle a road repair backlog exceeding $130 billion.”

Passion and pacing

“Jerry Brown’s decision to push through the largest gas tax increase in California’s history without the approval of voters demonstrated a complete disregard for ordinary Californians,” said Allen, the Los Angeles Times noted. “This ballot initiative will correct Brown’s failure and allow the people of California to decide for themselves if they want to raise their taxes.”

Hoping for an enduring grassroots reaction against the package, the assemblyman turned to disaffected state voters for support. “Allen launched a website asking for contributions of $5 to help him gather the 365,880 signatures from registered voters to place the repeal before voters. Allen can begin to gather signatures once the state attorney general issues a title and summary for his repeal,” according to the Sacramento Bee. “Allen is proposing a diverse stream of possible funding sources, including tribal gambling revenue, to replace the tax.” In addition to Allen, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has considered moving forward with an initiative proposal, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

One potential limitation to Allen’s ambitions would be a relative inability to capitalize on the heat of the political moment. Because of the electoral calendar, the Bee observed, “the earliest the tax could be repealed is after the November 2018 election. Referendums, which allow the law in question to be halted until voters pass judgment on the repeal, cannot be used to repeal tax levies or measures that lawmakers passed with an urgency clause, such as the gas tax increase.”

The long game

Yet a series of retaliatory moves against lawmakers who voted for Brown’s infrastructure bill could keep the issue simmering as Allen forges ahead. “In Fullerton, three Southern California radio talk show hosts kicked off a campaign Thursday to recall state Sen. Josh Newman, a first-term Democratic legislator who barely edged out his Republican opponent in November, in retaliation for his vote,” the Washington Times noted. “The Los Angeles hosts, joined by Carl DeMaio of KOGO-AM in San Diego, drove home the point by launching their recall campaign at an Arco gas station.”

“They were backed by Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, who announced the formation Thursday of Californians Against Car and Gas Tax Hikes in order to target Mr. Newman, whose Senate District 29 is based in Brea.”

Even a successful bid to remove Newman could be enough to upset the precarious balance around the tax law. “The loss of one Democratic senator would cost Democrats their two-thirds senate supermajority, making it much easier for Republicans to fight tax hikes,” as the Tribune noted. But it would also damage the legitimacy of the tax deal, which would have faced an even steeper hurdle to passage without Newman’s vote. 

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