With only days to go to the election, the Yes on 6 campaign is pulling out all the stops. The latest poll numbers show 41 percent of voters support the initiative and 48 are opposed, with just 11 undecided.
Carl DeMaio of the Yes on 6 campaign says the repeal effort is about the high cost of living in California. He believes if voters fully understand the initiative’s purpose is to repeal last year’s gas tax increase, it will gain wide bipartisan support. DeMaio thinks the official title doesn’t make it clear enough to voters that yes on Prop 6 means a tax cut.
The taxes and fees that Prop 6 would overturn added 12 cents a gallon to gasoline and 20 cents to diesel, and also raised car registration fees anywhere from $25 to $175 depending on a car’s value. The $5.4 billion revenue raised by those measures is targeted to transportation projects, with the state taking half, and the rest going to local agencies. Total taxes and fees on a gallon of gas in California now add up to about $1 a gallon, pushing the state’s fuel costs up to second place right behind Hawaii.
The battle for the gas tax repeal goes deeper than the proposition itself. It’s become a proxy for political control.
DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman and conservative talk show host, is now chairman of Reform California, the group leading the repeal effort. Backed by the California GOP, DeMaio successfully led the effort to recall state Senator Josh Newman, partly motivated by the Senator’s vote for the gas tax bill when it passed in the state legislature last year.
Now DeMaio’s vowing to take down Attorney General Xavier Becerra for hindering Prop 6 with what DeMaio claims is a deceptive ballot title: “Eliminates Certain Road Repair and Transportation Funding. Requires Certain Fuel Taxes and Vehicle Fees Be Approved by the Electorate.”
Unseating Becerra would be a difficult political move to pull off. The sitting attorney general has a strong lead in next week’s election over his opponent, conservative Steven Bailey.
California Alliance for Jobs’ Michael Quigley said in an ABC News interview that last year’s gas tax actually saves taxpayers’ money by making the roads safer and less destructive to cars. Quigley claims 6,500 current road projects might be put on hold because they depend on funds created by this tax, and the cost of stopping them and restarting in the future will ultimately cost the taxpayer much more.
Quigley also said California voters support increased infrastructure spending and that the real motivation behind Prop 6 is to draw more conservative voters to the polls to help Republican Congressional candidates win more seats. “The people behind Prop 6…are Republican interests out of Washington DC,” Quigley told ABC. “Over $2 million was raised [for the Prop 6 campaign] by Republicans out of state.”
DeMaio is pushing the message that voters are not getting what they’re paying for with the increase in yearly taxes and fees. The Yes On 6 website shows a study by the libertarian Reason Foundation finding that for every $1 spent in 49 other states to maintain a mile of highway, California spends $4.7. State Senator John Moorlach released an independent analysis of the Caltrans budget showing only 20% of the funds raised by the gas tax were spent on roads.
With disappointing poll numbers heading into the final stretch of the election, DeMaio decided to combat the ballot title issue with a media blitz of robocalls, mailers, and ads on talk radio.
The mailers are made to look like an official election document stating that it is a ballot correction and stating “The correct title for Proposition 6 should read: Proposition 6: Gas Tax Repeal Initiative.” Voters are urged to place it in their sample ballot. A statement at the bottom does clarify that this is not an official document, as required by law.
The robocalls use a similar message from Carl DeMaio, stating “There is an error printed on the election ballot sent to you from the County Registrar of Voters.”
The No on Prop 6 campaign claims those mailers and calls from DeMaio’s operation are deliberately made to seem official to deceive voters. Dave McCulloch, a spokesman for the Yes on 6 campaign, said in an ABC News report that these efforts are necessary to make sure voters know that Prop 6 is the gas tax repeal.