Gas-tax repeal gets closer to vote as ‘bullet’ train spotlights state’s misplaced priorities

By Steven Greenhut | Almost everyone agrees that California’s infrastructure is shockingly decrepit, yet public anger over a 12-cent-a-gallon gas tax to address that problem has not subsided. Although an effort by GOP gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen to repeal the tax never got traction, a separate effort led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio and GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox is close to qualifying for the November ballot.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who led the push for last year’s transportation tax hikes, has vowed a spirited and well-funded campaign against the rollback – and has expressed concern that repealing the tax would endanger $5 billion annually in much-needed road and freeway improvements. Various polls suggest it’s a close call whether voters will heed his warning.

The repeal effort already has collected the 585,000 signatures required to place it on the November ballot. DeMaio and other repeal backers are trying to gather another 250,000 signatures to provide a cushion against duplicates, improper signatures and any disputes with country registrars, who are tasked with qualifying signatures to place the measure for the ballot.

Steven Greenhut“Polling shows that as soon as voters know what it is, it’s 65 percent to 30 percent in favor of repeal,” DeMaio told me. “They’ll outspend us by as much as 10 to one, but there aren’t many undecided voters. People are angry and it’s going to be hard to change minds on this.”

Are the repeal’s supporters being shortsighted, given the pressing infrastructure needs? Not at all. No doubt, the governor and his union allies will be suggesting as much when they try to derail the repeal vote. DeMaio jokes that their “no” commercials “will say that the repeal kills kittens.” Democrats also are trying to forestall a June recall election of Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton. Republicans are targeting the freshman senator because of his deciding vote on the gas-tax hike. The recall has become a statewide battleground and is shaping up to be a tight race, especially during an expected Democratic surge year.

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