Column: Here’s why you should vote for the five state propositions on the primary election ballot

Vehicles pass a highway construction site on Interstate 80 in Sacramento in 2015. Voters will consider five state propositions on the primary ballot, including Proposition 69, which would require gas tax money be spent on transportation.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
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The five state propositions on the primary election ballot are snoozers, but they do make enough sense to deserve passage.

One undermines a specious argument against the state gas-tax increase that opponents are trying to repeal in the November general election.

All the measures were put on the ballot by the Legislature. I’ll get to the other four later.


Proposition 69 is a precursor to the fall gas-tax fight. The measure would make it a violation of the state Constitution for Sacramento politicians to do what gas tax opponents claim they habitually do: rob the highway repair kitty for non-transportation projects.

Actually, the main reason the Republican Party and GOP members of Congress are bankrolling the gas tax repeal is to draw conservative voters to the polls in November. They’re trying to save Republican congressional seats in California that are being targeted by Democrats. At stake is control of the U.S. House.

Gov. Jerry Brown, the most outspoken advocate of the gas tax, calls the repeal effort “stupid” and “nothing more than a Republican stunt to get a few of their losers returned to Congress.”

Proposition 69 simply says that all revenue raised from last year’s legislation to fund transportation projects must, in fact, be spent on transportation.

Specifically the measure locks up a 4% sales tax on diesel and a new annual vehicle fee ranging from $25 to $175, depending on a car’s worth. That represents 38% of the total $5.2 billion raised annually by the legislation.

The other 62% is already constitutionally protected from pilferers. It includes a 12-cent-per-gallon gas-tax increase and a 20-cent hike in diesel. Starting in 2020, there’ll also be a $100 annual fee on electric cars because they escape gas taxes.


Here’s how it’s to be divvied up: 65% for roads and bridges, 20% for transit, a portion for truck access around ports and some for bicycle and pedestrian lanes.

The California Transportation Commission has already approved $9.2 billion for various projects, and roughly 4,500 are underway. There’s an estimated backlog of about $140 billion in needed state and local road repairs.

Sure, not all the tax increase money will be spent on highway repairs. Some will go for transit and — much less — for bicycle lanes. But that eases road congestion by keeping bus riders and bicyclists out of their cars.

Charges that Sacramento has been filching fuel taxes and vehicle fees for pet projects have been bellowed for years and are essentially a myth.

Here are two incidents that keep the accusations alive:

Highway projects always have been financed by user fees — taxes at the pump, vehicle registrations, truck weight fees. But in 2000, when the economy was booming, Gov. Gray Davis decided to spend $2 billion from the general fund on one-time transportation projects. Then the economy turned sour, and he “borrowed” back $1.2 billion from the California Department of Transportation. The state has almost paid it all back.

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In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked voters into approving nearly $20 billion in bonds for transportation projects. They were to be paid off by the general fund. When the recession hit, the general fund began bleeding billions. So Schwarzenegger grabbed $1 billion in truck weight fees to repay the bonds. But the money was still spent on transportation.

Before last year, California’s gas tax hadn’t been raised since 1990 under Republican Gov. George Deukmejian. But it wasn’t adjusted for inflation. So that tax was buying about half as much as it once did. Plus, cars now are more fuel efficient, and motorists pump less gas.

Polling shows, however, that voters really hate the tax increase and are in the mood to repeal it. A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that 51% of registered voters support the repeal. Only 38% favor the tax.

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That’s the big picture. As for Proposition 69, there’s no organized opposition. Who can argue with a straight face against spending transportation tax money as it was intended — on transportation?


Now the other ballot measures:

Proposition 68 — $4.1-billion bond issue for parks, water, flood control and conservation projects

Brown held down the bond size to what he considered a prudent amount. Still, the total payback cost would be $7.8 billion, including interest. That’s about $200 million annually for 40 years.

There are a lot of worthwhile goodies in this measure. But in November, there’ll be a similar, privately sponsored initiative on the ballot that’s more than twice the size: $8.9 billion. That proposition will warrant more voter scrutiny.

Proposition 70 — cap-and-trade revenue

Cap and trade is a climate-control program that forces companies to buy permits from the state to emit greenhouse gasses. It’s raising roughly $3.3 billion annually. To get it renewed last year on a two-thirds legislative vote, Brown had to agree to Proposition 70. The measure would require another two-thirds vote in 2024 to reauthorize how the cap-and-trade money is split.

Why is this significant? Brown’s embattled bullet train is drawing $730 million this year from the program. Proposition 70 would force legislators to take a hard look at the train’s progress in six years — maybe even derail it.


Proposition 71 — ballot propositions

This says a proposition can’t take effect until five days after all the votes are counted and the secretary of state certifies its passage. What’s to argue?

Proposition 72 — rain-capture systems and property taxes

My favorite. It says if a homeowner builds a system to save rainwater and uses it for landscaping or toilets, an assessor can’t raise the property value and pile on more taxes. This should be a model for future legislation.

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