California

Report: California's Transportation Agency Coordinated With Gas Tax Supporters

The agency and the anti-repeal coalition discussed events, social media posts, and congressional Republicans in vulnerable races.

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|||Flynt/Dreamstime.com
Flynt/Dreamstime.com

A measure on the California ballot is calling for the repeal of the state's recent gas tax, diesel fuel tax, and vehicle fee increases. Proposition 6 seeks to repeal a 2017 decision to raise the state's gas tax by $0.12 per gallon and the diesel fuel tax by $0.20 per gallon, and would also require voter approval for any future increases. Now, emails obtained by the Associated Press indicate that California's State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) had an unusually close relationship with repeal opponents.

Sacramento-based Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks (BCF) is a public affairs firm that represents the unions, construction companies, and local government groups which make up the anti-repeal coalition. The groups have argued that the tax increases will help fund road and bridge repairs. From 2017 to the beginning of 2018, approximately 200 emails were sent between CalSTA and BCF. These included plans for hosting events, creating social media posts, and even discussing opinion pieces "targeting" congressional Republicans in vulnerable races.

Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson, an expert on government ethics, and Bob Stern, who helped to write some of California's campaign laws, were both quoted in the A.P. report saying that they believed the relationship to be too close, particularly the discussions about anti-Republican pieces.

Whether or not there will be any fallout from the closeness is hard to say. But the California state government has made its position on transportation funding, and opponents of the funding measures, quite clear.

While defending the 2017 decision to raise taxes, Gov. Jerry Brown referred to opponents as "freeloaders" at an event. His methods were criticized by Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman (and former contractor for the Reason Foundation, which publishes this website). "The governor is using the entirety of the government infrastructure to go out and hold press conferences to say everything but vote no on the gas tax [repeal]," DeMaio said at the time.

Despite the effort, a poll conducted for several local news organizations indicated that a majority of likely voters were ready to vote "yes" on the proposition and repeal the gas tax increases. Opponents have argued that a repeal will cause construction to "come grinding to a halt" and make road conditions "even worse." However, a report from the Reason Foundation shows that California is a prime example that more spending does not necessarily yield better results. California highways rank 46th in quality despite spending $84,005 per mile for maintenance, much higher than the national average of $28,020.

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