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Gas Tax Repeal Initiative To Go Before California Voters

A man selects a grade of gasoline as he fills up his car at a gas station, June 4, 2014.
Associated Press
A man selects a grade of gasoline as he fills up his car at a gas station, June 4, 2014.
Gas Tax Repeal Initiative To Go Before California Voters
Gas Tax Repeal Initiative To Go Before California Voters GUEST: Alexei Koseff, reporter, The Sacramento Bee

>>> Supporters of the states gas tax have a fight on their hands now that the gas tax repeal initiative has qualified for the November ballot. And LA Times public opinion poll in May found that 51% of registered voters say they would vote to reveal -- repeal the tax. The movement against the gas tax got its start in San Diego and has since become an issue in California's race for governor. Candidate John Cox is a champion of the repeal effort. Here he is on the John and Ken radio show. >> It is about the working Californians who have to fill their take or feed their families. The Democrats in Sacramento just don't care. >>> Joining me as reporter Alexi Cassis with the Sacramento bee. He wrote about the gas tax in the mood to repeal it. We just heard from candidate John Cox about why opponents say the gas tax has to go. What do supporters say about why it is needed ? >> From the beginning, Governor Jerry Brown and Democrats in Sacramento have been proponents of this as a necessary source of revenue to address a huge backlog of road maintenance, the states crumbling highways, bridges, and other kinds of transportation projects that we need to keep California moving. They say that there is not enough money from the gas tax revenues that we currently get. If California wants the on top of things, we are going to have to suck it up and raise the gas tax and invest in keeping the state modern. >>> Isn't it a fact that what they are also saying is that the gas tax that was in place before is not providing enough revenue because there are 70 hybrids and electric vehicles on the road now? That is true. The state is moving away from many of the old vehicles that took many more gallons in the gas tank. There is a whole other part of this deal that is over looked when we talk about the gas tax increasing which is that the state has overhauled its system for road use fees. Now when you register your car, you pay a different amount depending on how much your car is worth. If you have a zero emission vehicle, which includes electric cars and some hybrids, then you are paying an additional fee as well because you are not contributing anything. So they are expected to get billions of dollars every year through that new system as well. >>> Usually here in San Diego advocating for road repairs is a way to gain support of voters. Who does not complain about a street in their neighborhood that is unpaved and bumpy. In this case, apparently most voters are against that. Why is that ? >> I don't think you could say that most voters are against repairs of roads themselves. People want better roads. The issue is paying more for it at the pump. Especially right now as we are seeing gas prices rise, it is frustrating to people. In order to make sure this does not get repealed at the ballot, supporters are going to have to make the case that the trade-off is worth it in the long run. They have tried to in the past by saying that better roads will lead to less costs and maintenance in the long run and things like that. It is hard for people to keep the immediately in their minds when it hits their pocketbook. Opponents have hit pretty hard the point that there is money available in the budget now to do these things already. Why should we have to raise taxes and get even more money for people when we could just rearrange our priorities in the budget and paid for these projects. >>> Is this gas tax repeal expected to be a talking point in other state races ? we know it has one in the gubernatorial race. But will it be a bigger issue across the board ? >> It is a big issue for Republicans across the board. It is unclear how it will come into play in the actual race themselves. John Cox who helped fund the effort to get this on the ballot has made it a central part of his campaign. It is something that Republicans plan to use in legislative races. Targeting Democrats who voted for this plan to get them out of office. One of the places it may be the most useful is in congressional races where a lot of vulnerable Republicans are trying to hold on to their house seats. They are not going to be talking about this as an issue since they have no authority over it. They have put a ton of money into the campaign. People like Mimi Walters, Kevin McCarthy, Darrell ISA in an effort to help Republicans retain Congress. It is an issue. Just because they are not talking about it does not mean they are not trying to boost the issue to try to stay elected or help other Republicans. >>> If the gas tax repeal is approved by voters in November, it will not only repeal the current gas tax and fees, it will make it harder to approve future increases. Tell us about that. >> The way the measure is written, it is actually forward facing. It says no gas tax can go into effect without a vote of the public. But it is retroactive to the beginning of 2017. So in passing this policy to give voters more power, California will also be taking away the last gas tax the legislature passed which happen to come after the beginning of 2017. >>> I have been speaking with Sacramento bee reporter Alexei Koseff. Thank you. >> Thank you.

California voters will decide this November whether to get rid of higher gas taxes and vehicle registration fees approved last year.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Monday that initiative supporters collected enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The gas tax repeal initiative is a central part of the Republican strategy to hold onto contested legislative and congressional seats in the face of Democrats motivated by opposition to President Donald Trump. GOP officials hope opposition to the gas tax will make inroads with moderate voters and encourage conservatives to cast a ballot.

They say high gas taxes contribute to California's high cost of living, making it harder for families to make ends meet.

RELATED: Thousands Of Petitions To Repeal California Gas Tax Filed In San Diego

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and other supporters say the $5 billion a year in revenue is needed to maintain roads and bridges. The campaign in support, backed largely by construction unions and contractors, is emphasizing the benefits of rebuilding crumbling roads to relieve congestion and reduce car repair needs.

"This flawed and dangerous measure pushed by Trump's Washington allies jeopardizes the safety of millions of Californians by stopping local communities from fixing their crumbling roads and bridges," Brown wrote on Twitter. "Just say no."

Under legislation approved more than a year ago, taxes on gasoline rose by 12 cents per gallon and diesel fuel by 20 cents. Vehicle registration fees rose by $25 to $175 depending on the vehicle's value.

The initiative would repeal all those tax hikes and require voter approval for any such increases in the future.

"This is a message to the millions of forgotten Californians ignored by the Sacramento political elite, help is on the way," John Cox, a Republican candidate for governor who helped lead the initiative drive, said in a statement.