Chris White, DCNF
California Republicans are mounting a campaign to motivate voters against a very unpopular gas tax increase Democrats passed in 2017.
Republican Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Mimi Walters of California are using a very unpopular gas tax increase to generate excitement among GOP votes. Both Republicans want to put a measure on the ballot that repeals the increase. They believe the campaign could increase voter turnout and staunch a blue wave in the state.
“We pay one of the highest gasoline taxes in the nation,” Walters told reporters Saturday, according to The Hill. “By the time you get to 2021, we’re going to be paying $2 a gallon for gasoline just in taxes, and we can’t do that for working families who have to travel for their job.”
Recent polls show McCarthy and Walters’ gamble has a chance to pay off.
Nearly 58 percent of voters oppose the tax increase, including 39 percent who say they strongly reject the legislation, according to a survey UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies conducted shortly after the measure was passed in June of 2017. Only 35 percent of voters surveyed favor the law, which raises taxes on gasoline and diesel and hikes vehicle registration fees to fix roads and highways.
Opposition against the measure is widespread. Voters in all major regions of the state other than the Bay Area and all age categories over 30 are unhappy about it. Liberal voters are the only group that largely supports the law. Other polls are more split. More than 47 percent of likely voters favor repeal, while 48 percent oppose nixing the law, according to a poll the Public Policy Institute of California released in February.
A similar gas tax increase helped bring down Democratic former Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 after he signed legislation dramatically increasing the vehicle license fee. No one is clamoring to recall Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the act into law, but Los Angeles Republicans have collected enough signatures to force the recall of Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman. That election will take place June 5.
The law, passed April 6, imposes a 12 cents per gallon (cpg) hike on citizens and raises the tax on diesel fuel by 20 cpg. It also implements an additional charge to annual vehicle license fees ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the car’s value.
Democrats in the state legislature passed the measure along party lines. Only one Republican — state Sen. Anthony Cannella — voted in favor of the measure after receiving $500 million in kickbacks for a commuter rail extension in his district.
Brown, for his part, goaded the Republicans during the legislative session for opposing what he called a common-sense tax.
“The Republicans in Sacramento want to fix our roads,” Brown told reporters at the time, but “they expect the tooth fairy to pay the $5 billion every year.” The law makes California the second highest gas tax in the country behind Pennsylvania. The Golden State’s gas tax would increase from 40 to 52 cpg.
Gas taxes are supposed to provide revenue for road construction, maintenance, repair, and improvements, but states typically divert much of the money to other sources. In 2013, gas taxes and motor vehicle license fees paid for 40 percent of state and local road spending.
Lawmakers inserted an amendment into the bill that would place an initiative on the 2018 ballot preventing the tax from being transferred to the general fund. The tax opponents are worried the state’s attorney general, a Democrat, will write summary language for the initiative making it nearly impossible to understand its intent.