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Gas tax, Trump, Housing Drive Race For California Governor

California gubernatorial candidates Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and John Cox, a Republican, are shown in this undated image.
Associated Press
California gubernatorial candidates Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and John Cox, a Republican, are shown in this undated image.

California's race for governor pits Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat and former San Francisco mayor, against Republican businessman John Cox. Here's a look at where they stand on issues that have shaped the race:

GAS TAX REPEAL (Proposition 6)

Lawmakers and outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown last year raised gas taxes by 12 cents to 41.7 cents per gallon and vehicle registration fees by $25 to $175 to pay for road repairs.

Cox is chairman of the group that collected signatures to put the question before voters in November. He has made rolling back the increases — and requiring voter approval for any future hikes — a centerpiece of a campaign focused on reducing taxes and regulations.


Newsom supports the gas tax increase, saying repeal would end critical road construction happening across the state and take away the jobs that accompany them.


After trying to distance himself from Trump early in the race, Cox embraced the president and was rewarded with a series of laudatory tweets that helped him consolidate support among Republicans and finish second in the primary to secure a ballot slot in the general election.

He's now walking a tightrope — staying close enough to Trump to satisfy Republicans who back the president but not so close to alienate independents he needs to attract to win. He notes that he and Trump are successful businessmen looking to bring their talents to politics and has praised Trump for the strong economy, but he says "I'm running my own campaign here."

Newsom, meanwhile, abhors Trump and pledges to continue California's efforts to stymie the president's agenda. The state has been Trump's chief antagonist, challenging environmental, immigration and other policies in court and finding ways to thwart them under state law.


Newsom backed a California Nurses Association proposal this session to eliminate insurance companies and give everyone state-funded health coverage. It was blocked in the Assembly but it's become rallying cry and litmus test for many voters on the left.


Newsom said he's studying international models and promises to aggressively pursue something that would work in California to achieve "universal health care, regardless of pre-existing condition, ability to pay and immigration status."

Cox is adamantly opposed to a government-run health care system, which he says would lead to long wait times, massive tax increases and a system controlled by health care lobbyists.

He's been less specific about what he'd change with California's health care system but makes clear he opposes more government intervention and providing coverage to immigrants living in the country illegally.


Newsom has pledged to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025. That's the number experts say is needed to catch up with current needs and keep pace with demand. Critics say it's unrealistic in a state that has never built so many homes so fast. He also calls for building more subsidized housing.

Cox notes that it's significantly cheaper to build homes in Indiana, where he owns more than a dozen apartment complexes, than in California. He pledges to get rid of strict regulations that he says drive up the cost of construction and to reform the California Environmental Quality Act, which critics say is abused by development opponents to block new construction or delay it through years of lawsuits. CEQA, as it's known, requires local governments to identify and mitigate environmental harms from construction projects.

Both candidates oppose Proposition 10, a ballot measure that would pave the way for expanded rent control.


Cox opposes the state's largest infrastructure project — a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. He's pledged to end the project, which he sometimes calls "the crazy train." He's blasted the project for significant cost overruns and setbacks.

"We've wasted billions on this job," Cox said at a debate earlier this year. "It's gone the minute I am governor."

Newsom's position on the train has shifted. He joined with then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to campaign for voter-approved bonds to help finance the project in 2008. Years later, with costs skyrocketing, he questioned whether it was the best use of the money.

Now, he says he supports the project but is concerned that there's no plan in place to raise much of the estimate $77 billion the project will cost.


Cox says California needs more reservoirs and other storage facilities, which he says are vital for California's massive agriculture industry and will be a priority if he's elected.

He has blasted a plan by state water officials to increase flows on the lower San Joaquin River to save salmon and other fish but that would deliver less to farmers in the Central Valley.

Newsom says he'd look to expand the adoption of technologies that reduce water use, such as drip irrigation and remote sensors to ensure fields and yards don't use more water than they need. He's also talked up water recycling and replenishing groundwater.


Newsom advocates policies that help immigrants living illegally in California, including expanded public benefit and legal defenses against deportation. He also wants comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level and opposes building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Immigration has advanced the economy of this state in profound and pronounced ways," Newsom said.

Cox frequently blasts California's "sanctuary state" law that restricts cooperation between law-enforcement and federal immigration authorities — a policy that Newsom supports. He supports building the border wall and calls for more aggressive immigration enforcement.

"I don't want to live next to MS-13 and I don't think any of us do," Cox said earlier this year, referring to a violent gang formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by El Salvadoran immigrants.


Cox says high taxes are crippling California and contributing to a high cost of living he says drives people to more affordable states. He'd like to reduce the income tax and overall state spending, but acknowledged that's unlikely to happen with Democrats controlling the Legislature.

Newsom says he'll begin a long-term process to reform the state's notoriously volatile tax code, which leads the state budget to mirror the stock market's boom and bust cycles. California's income tax rate is too high and not competitive with other states in the West, he says.

"The vast majority of our economy is not taxed, and as a consequence we are very indulgent in taxing the remaining part of our economy," Newsom told The Associated Press.

Newsom declined to say whether he'd like to add a sales tax on services or had other ideas in mind, saying "I want to put everything on the table."

The 2024 primary election is March 5. Find in-depth reporting on each race to help you understand what's on your ballot.