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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS BALLOT MEASURES : Campaign for Gas Tax Gets Into High Gear

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the next two weeks, residents of California’s major cities will flip on their television sets for the evening news only to be greeted with a graphic reminder of one of their daily frustrations--traffic congestion.

The image flickering on the television screen will be reminiscent of the scene and sounds most will have left not long before. Cars bumper to bumper on the freeway. Horns honking. Gears grinding as giant trailer-trucks slow to a crawl.

Then, just as the viewer begins to tense up again, a voice will suggest softly, “Experts warn us traffic will double in the next 10 years. We need to do something now to handle that traffic.”

That something, it turns out, is the passage of Propositions 111 and 108, the ballot measures that would raise $18.5 billion over the next decade largely by increasing the gasoline tax by 9 cents a gallon and authorizing a $1-billion bond issue for mass transit.

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The new television spot is part of a two-week advertising campaign to win votes for the two propositions, which were designed by Gov. George Deukmejian and legislative leaders of both parties to improve California’s transportation system, ease congestion and expand mass transit.

“The polls show the more the public knows about these issues, the better are our chances,” said Don Schrack, a spokesman for Woodward-McDowell, a Burlingame-based consulting firm that is spearheading the campaign to pass the two measures. “Those who seem to have a pretty good grasp of (Proposition 111) are favoring it 2 to 1.”

A second television spot to be aired at the same time attempts to rekindle the memories and fears that accompanied last October’s Bay Area earthquake. The camera moves to scenes of damaged bridges and freeways as an announcer solemnly proclaims, “Earthquakes are a fact of life in California and we’ve all seen what they can do.”

The scene shifts to shots of other freeways and bridges undergoing repairs. This time the voice is more insistent: “When it happens again--and it will--we need to be ready.”

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The two 30-second spots have two messages. The first suggests that traffic congestion will only get worse unless voters provide the money through the passage of Propositions 111 and 108. The second is more ominous, implying that the state will not have enough money to make its bridges and freeways earthquake-safe unless the two propositions are approved.

Schrack said the campaign hopes the emphasis on the earthquake will draw more support for the gasoline tax increase. He said that immediately following the quake, polls showed strong voter interest in the gas tax increase but that, as memories of the event faded, so did support for the tax hike.

Television advertising for the campaign has been limited by a shortage of funds. Deukmejian, who is heading the campaign, had hoped to raise $5 million for it but so far has fallen far short of that goal.


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