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Increases to California's gas tax were approved in 2017 and will continue for years.
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Increases to California's gas tax were approved in 2017 and will continue for years.
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Capitol Alert

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Capitol Alert

Get rid of the new gas tax? New poll shows initiative backers have statewide support

By Angela Hart

ahart@sacbee.com

December 21, 2017 08:00 PM

If they get a chance, a majority of California voters would repeal the new statewide gas tax that went into effect last month.

A new poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found 52 percent of likely voters would support an initiative repealing California’s recent increases in gas taxes and vehicle license fees, while 46 percent said they “strongly” support repealing the charges.

Republicans overwhelmingly favor repeal, with 80 percent of them indicating that they’d support rescinding the gas tax.

Meanwhile, 32 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents would vote to repeal the tax.

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Voters in the Bay Area are most supportive of the tax increase and transportation improvements it’s projected to fund. Inland California voters especially oppose the tax, and voters in coastal counties narrowly oppose the new charges.

“The Bay Area is a much more liberal-leaning, progressive electorate that I think puts more stock in the greater good. That’s a progressive value, if you believe the greater good is served by this modest increase in gas taxes, versus others who say, ‘I’m already paying too much in taxes, therefore I’m in favor of repeal,’” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “It’s not winning a lot of support among voters in the inland counties; that includes Sacramento and the Central Valley.”

Prices at the pump went up 12 cents per gallon last month as a result of the 10-year, $52 billion transportation package approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Gov. Jerry Brown advocated for the bill and signed it in April.

Prices are set to increase again in January 2020 based on inflation, according to state officials. The extra transportation funding is intended to address deferred maintenance for roads, bridges and other infrastructure, as well as support public transportation projects across the state.

Two different groups are gathering signatures for initiatives that would repeal the tax.

One is backed by Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, though he has not yet gathered 25 percent of the required 365,880 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. The other repeal proposal, from Republican attorney Thomas Hiltachk, met that threshold Dec. 13, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

While the majority of likely voters want to repeal the gas tax, 3-in-4 Californians still think the roads are bad.

But that doesn’t translate into support for funding to fix them. Instead, most voters want to repeal the tax because they consider gas prices “much higher” than prices at the pump in the rest of the country.

“What I see underlying this difference is a tradeoff between higher gas prices, and a kind of view that everyone needs to chip in to improve the state’s roads,” DiCamillo said. “What’s winning the day right now is this generalized perception that taxes in California are higher than they are elsewhere, which makes this tax increase unpopular.”

Brown’s office declined to comment on whether the governor will campaign to protect the gas tax, noting the repeal initiatives have not qualified for the November ballot. Brown had previously weighed in, saying “I can’t believe the proponents of this ballot measure really want Californians to keep driving on lousy roads and dangerous bridges.

“Taking billions of dollars a year from road maintenance and repair borders on insanity,” he said.

A majority of Democrats favor the transportation funding plan and the tax, with 60 percent supporting the law. Support climbs among people who identify as liberal, with 70 percent of them favoring the transportation fees.

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