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GOP candidate for governor John Cox spars with Democrats over repeal of gas-tax increase

GOP candidate for governor John Cox spars with Democrats over repeal of gas-tax increase
A sign in Riverside County is one of many criticized by those seeking to repeal the gas tax. Critics say the signs use taxpayer dollars to promote the tax. (Reform Califronia)

Foes and supporters of the state’s increased gas tax clashed at the Capitol on Monday, with Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox saying he wants to repeal the new charge because it has become a burden on working Californians straining to fuel their cars.

Cox said opponents of the gas tax were not invited to provide their position at a public hearing on the repeal initiative held late Monday by the Senate and Assembly transportation committees, whose chairpersons are Democrats.

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“Clearly the politicians didn’t want that here,” Cox said during a news conference on the Capitol steps. “This gas tax is just one element of how the politicians are doing the bidding of the donors and the special interests, and are ignoring the needs of working Californians.”

Cox originally planned to testify during the public comment portion of the committee meeting but left after the hearing was delayed by three hours. The comments period was dominated by a large number of supporters of the gas tax.

Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), chairman of the Assembly panel, said the gas tax and vehicle fees are necessary and he thinks they have voters’ support.

“Is it perfect? No,” he said during the hearing. “But there is a tens-of-billions-of-dollars backlog in repairs that we are not acknowledging.”

The hearing was called a “one-sided railroading of the public initiative process” by Republican Carl DeMaio, a leader of the repeal campaign.

DeMaio, who heads the group Reform California, testified at the hearing that he opposes the new levy in part because previous gas tax money was not used exclusively to fix roads and bridges.

“We need to reject the tax increase,” DeMaio told the legislators. “You should have done [the repairs] by now.”

He noted state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) was recently recalled from office for voting for the gas-tax increase, and he warned the Democrats at the hearing that some of them may be next to lose their jobs.

State legislative analysts and city and county officials said that repeal of last year’s increase in the gas tax and vehicle fees would cost the state billions of dollars and force the delay of thousands of road and bridge construction projects and mass transit improvements.

“Hundreds of highway bridges would not receive repair or replacement,” said Brian Annis, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency. “The bottom line is if the repeal were to occur, pavement would get worse not better.”

Officials from Merced, Solano and Nevada counties and the cities of Lakewood and Thousand Oaks were among the many local officials who testified that they are already working on fixing their local streets with SB 1 money, and they would be hard-pressed to address deteriorating roads without the gas tax funds.

Michael Turner, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said repeal would put many of its projects “at risk,” including “fixing potholes in every Los Angeles County city.”

DeMaio also charged Monday that state and local government officials are misusing taxpayer resources by erecting signs along many California roadways, including some not currently undergoing construction, touting the law for providing funds to repair streets and bridges.

“These signs are paid for out of your gas tax dollars,” DeMaio said at the news conference with Cox. “The only thing that is at work here in our gas tax dollars is a slick deceptive PR campaign designed to keep this tax in place.”

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Caltrans has spent about $33,000 to post about 48 signs on roads and bridges getting makeovers with SB 1 money, said Melissa Figueroa, a state transportation agency spokeswoman.

“Federal, state and local governments have been posting highway construction signs like this for decades, and it’s rather ironic that those who claim to represent taxpayers’ interests now no longer want Californians to know how their tax dollars are being spent,” Figueroa said.

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