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Judge rewrites summary of proposed gas tax repeal initiative, saying it was 'fundamentally flawed'

A Chevron gas station in Sacramento shows prices in February. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
A Chevron gas station in Sacramento shows prices in February. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

A judge on Monday rewrote the title and summary for a proposed initiative that would repeal recent gas tax increases in California. He rejected a title and summary written by the state attorney general's office as "fundamentally flawed."

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy M. Frawley criticized the attorney general's office for not mentioning in the title that the ballot measure would repeal newly approved taxes or fees.

"This is not a situation where reasonable minds may differ," Frawley wrote in his ruling. "The Attorney General's title and summary ... must be changed to avoid misleading the voters and creating prejudice against the measure."

The initiative proposed by Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) would repeal a bill approved in April by the Legislature and governor that would raise the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon and increase vehicle fees in order to generate $5.2 billion for road repairs and to improve mass transit.

The title and summary will be placed on petitions to be circulated by those trying to qualify the measure for the November 2018 ballot. The title and summary are also placed on the ballot if enough signatures are collected.

The original title written by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra's office was: "Eliminates recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing revenues dedicated for those purposes."

Allen's attorneys argued the voter could read that to mean that the Legislature identified existing funds for transportation and the initiative would take those funds away.

The judge's title says: "Repeals recently enacted gas and diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees. Eliminates road repair and transportation programs funded by these taxes and fees."

The judge also made it clear in the summary that an Independent Office of Audits and Investigations that would be eliminated by the initiative is "newly established."

Representatives of the attorney general's office were not immediately available to comment on whether the ruling would be appealed.

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