SB1 Gas Tax—Many Californians say, “Repeal it!” Governor Brown says, “No!”

SB1 Gas Tax—Many Californians say, “Repeal it!” Governor Brown says, “No!”

S.E. Williams

When the California legislature narrowly passed SB1 primarily along party lines last April, though one Republican crossed his party to vote “yes,” many Californians cried foul. 

The $52 billion transportation package, sold as major road repair bill, included a number of sweeteners to seduce votes from reluctant Democrats. 

When the measure went into effect last November, it seemed to lift a cover off the anger built up among constituents, many whom were barely regaining a financial foothold after the devastation of the Great Recession and years of stagnant wages. Since November, the push-back against the increased gas tax has not dissipated. 

Last year, two initiatives were launched to give voters an opportunity to repeal SB1 on the November 2018 ballot. Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), a candidate for California Governor this year, announced in early January he had failed in his attempt to gather the required signatures to place an SB1 repeal initiative on the November ballot. His efforts to qualify the bill were impeded due to a legal battle over how the measure would be described on the ballot. 

Instead, Allen decided to back a parallel effort to qualify a similar ballot measure to repeal SB1 endorsed by a rival Republican in the governor’s race, San Diego businessman John Cox, backed by the Howard Jarvis Tax Association (HJTA). 

The Cox/HJTA/Allen initiative has continued to gain momentum. The measure’s advocates told Capital Public Radio in late January they had already gathered two-thirds of the 585,407 signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the November ballot. The deadline for signature submission is May 21. 

The measure, available for review at https://www.givevotersavoice.com/initiative/, would amend the California Constitution to require voter approval of the recent increase in the gas and car tax enacted by SB1, as well as any future increases in the gas and car tax.

A poll taken by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies subsequent to the passage of SB1 last year showed only 35 percent of California voters approved of the measure, while 39 percent strongly opposed it and another 19 percent were somewhat opposed. 

When Governor Brown delivered his final State of the State address last week, he noted that, according to those gathering signatures for the Cox/HJTA/Allen repeal initiative, they were closing in on the signatures needed to qualify it for the ballot. 

According to Brown, the repeal of SB1 would have “significant negative impacts on counties,” and, if the repeal succeeds, it would not only reduce the SB1 Gas Tax back to earlier levels “The funds that SB1 makes available are absolutely necessary if we are going to maintain our roads and transit systems in good repair,” he stressed. “Twenty-five other states have raised gas taxes. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called for a federal gas tax because the highway trust fund is nearly broke.” 

Brown went on to explain how government does what individuals can’t do, like build roads and bridges and support local bus and light rail systems. “This is our common endeavor by which we pool our resources through the public sector and improve all of our lives,” he said adamantly. 

In bringing his comments on SB1 to a close, he noted that fighting a gas tax increase might look like good politics, “but it isn’t. I will do everything in my power to defeat any repeal effort that gets on the ballot. You can count on that.”

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