The effort to roll back the state's recent hike in fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees was defeated handily.
Prop. 6, the so-called gas-tax repeal would have overturned Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act. The bill passed the state Legislature by a two-thirds majority last year, adding 12 cents a gallon for gasoline, 20 cents for diesel and increasing vehicle registration fees.
The measure drew just 45 percent of the vote, with 93 percent of precincts reporting at 5 a.m. today.
Prop. 6, spearheaded by former San Diego City Councilman turned conservative talk radio host Carl DeMaio, would have also required a two-thirds vote of the people to increase state fuel taxes going forward.
"We've been a David versus Goliath camp since day one," said DeMaio, who blamed the measure's poor showing on what he called confusing ballot language.
"We were hampered by a misleading ballot statement," he added. "This shows the politicians have been stealing our gas taxes, and now they're trying to steal our votes."
DeMaio watched the returns come in from the historic US Grant hotel in downtown San Diego beside other conservatives in Tuesday's election, such as gubernatorial candidate John Cox.
At the same time, Gov. Jerry Brown celebrated the defeat of Prop. 6 on Tuesday with a crowd of supporters at the Capitol in Sacramento.
"People know you get what you pay for," he said. "We have built hundreds of thousands of miles of roads and highways, and you got to keep them fixed up. Everybody knows, if you don't fix your roof, it leaks."
The call to repeal the gas tax has been a central rallying cry for conservatives this election season.
However, while a handful of congressional Republicans ponied up money to help qualify the repeal effort for the ballot, funding dried up going into the general election.
The GOP establishment sent out mailers to support the repeal but focused most of its resources after June on other races throughout the state.
In the end, opponents of Prop. 6 outspent supporters by roughly $40 million to $4 million, with a collation of business groups, labor and local governments contributing the lion's share to defeat the citizens' initiative.
The No on Prop. 6 campaign released this statement following the early returns:
Brown, who has labeled DeMaio a "political terrorist," held his only campaign event of the season on Friday, denouncing the repeal effort at a Bay Area rally as a "scam."
DeMaio threatened to spearhead a recall of Brown's appointed Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra after conflicting polling showed that voters were less likely to support Prop. 6 when confronted with the official ballot language, as opposed to explicitly asking about the gas tax repeal.
DeMaio called the ballot language "sinister."
The official ballot title read: "Eliminates certain road repair and transportation funding. Requires certain fuel taxes and vehicle fees be approved by the electorate. Initiative constitutional amendment."
Many voters across the political spectrum, but particularly conservatives, had expressed much frustration over the new tax, in part, because California's roads are so poor and its gasoline so expensive.
Opponents of the gas tax have blamed the situation on bureaucratic mismanagement, as well as use of funding to pay for pedestrian infrastructure, bike lanes and public transit.
The high cost of gas in California is in large part due to the state's strict environmental policies — from the state's cap-and-trade program to aggressive clean-fuel standards.
DeMaio and his supporters had also focused public outrage over gas prices and poor roads on a narrative that charged elected officials with "diverting" existing funds for road repairs to pet projects.
Brown anticipated the attack. In June, California voters approved Prop. 69 to amend the state constitution to require all the new revenue go to transportation.
However, opponents dismissed the move as political theater because money from the gas tax can still be borrowed for "cash flow" purposes.
The claim that the state has siphoned off money from previous gas-tax revenues stems from the early 2000s, when the Legislature borrowed roughly $3.39 billion from several transportation accounts to patch holes in the general fund budget following the dot-com crash.
All but roughly $706 million of the money borrowed has been repaid. Officials have said that no transportation projects were significantly delayed. Under SB 1, the remainder of the funding is required to be reimbursed from the state's general fund within three years.
SB 1 has been projected to bring in more than $5 billion a year for the state's transportation system, largely to pay for badly needed roads and highways repairs. Funding is also slated for bridges and stormwater infrastructure, as well as rail systems, buses and bike lanes.
About $3 billion a year from the tax and fee increases has been scheduled for rehabilitation and maintenance of state highways and local streets, according to a legislative analysis.
However, the recent increase in funding is not enough to completely address California's crumbling infrastructure.
The state has an annual deferred maintenance backlog of roughly $137 billion through 2027, according to a legislative analysis. Because it's more cost effective to maintain roads and highways than try to fix them in disrepair, the expenditures needed to bring the system back to health grow by billions annually.
While funding from the gasoline tax increase goes almost exclusively to road and highway repairs, the diesel sales tax hike helps fund local transit operations, as well as efforts to improve freight operations through major trade corridors such as at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Democrats championed the economic effects of the bill, saying it would create roughly 13,000 jobs a year.
Road Repair and Accountability Act by the numbers
Gasoline tax increase: 12 cents per gallon*
Total state excise tax on gasoline: 41.7 cents a gallon
Diesel tax increase: 20 cents per gallon*
Total state excise tax on diesel: 36 cents a gallon
Transportation improvement fee: $25 to $175 a year, depending on the value of a vehicle**
Road Improvement Fee on Zero Emission Vehicles: $100 a year***
*Started Nov. 1, 2017
**Started Jan. 1, 2018
*** Starts July 1, 2020
Phone: (619) 293-2234