Brown Touts Gas Tax as Repeal Effort Heats Up

California Gov. Jerry Brown highlighted infrastructure and transportation goals at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, while also defending a gas tax targeted for repeal on the November ballot. (Nathan Solis/CNS)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – California Governor Jerry Brown called efforts to repeal a gas tax that will pay for transportation and infrastructure projects throughout the state “stupid” and “devious” at a transportation event Friday in downtown Los Angeles.

Brown spoke at LA’s Union Station – regional connector to light rail, buses and the Amtrak line – to highlight the progress and goals of Senate Bill 1, which is being targeted for a repeal by fiscal conservatives and state Republicans. The bid to repeal the $54 billion transportation plan is expected to make it on the November ballot.

“The state has lots of money we want to give you,” said Brown. “So, let us, and the way you let us do that is vote no on the initiative that is not only devious, deceptive, but it’s unfair, un-Californian and we’re going to defeat it. Have no doubt.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined Brown, along with transportation and infrastructure officials at the “Rebuilding California” event aimed at shoring up support for the gas tax.

“If you think the traffic is flowing just fine, go ahead repeal SB 1,” said Garcetti. “But if you think that jobs are important, your family is important, your commute is important – if you want to spend more time doing the things that we live for then it is time for us to stand up and to step up and say no to this repeal.”

Brown said the effort was a “stupid repeal measure that was nothing more than a Republican stunt to get a few of their losers returned to Congress.”

California Republicans have rallied around the repeal initiative in recent months, and have petitioned to recall a Democratic state senator for voting to support the bill that upped the gas tax by 12 cents and also hiked vehicle registration fees.

In April 2017, state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, voted to support the bill – one of 81 lawmakers to do so. But while 26 Democrats and one Republican in the state Senate and 54 Democrats in the Assembly voted yes, only Newman finds himself in the crosshairs of a recall.

Just five days after the vote, Newman learned of the recall as he was scrolling through his news feed while on a family vacation and read a Sacramento Bee headline about a senator being targeted for a recall.

“I thought, oh someone must be in trouble,” said Newman. “That’s when I saw my name.”

Recall organizers say Newman’s vote for SB 1 is one of the reasons he needs to be removed from office, but he has another name for it.

California state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton. (sd29.senate.ca.gov)

“I’m the one being targeted for our vote,” said Newman. “I was one of 81 legislators who voted for the same piece of legislation. It’s not because of the merits.”

In 2016, Newman clinched his seat by less than 2,500 votes over Republican rival Ling Ling Chang. Senate District 29 includes portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange counties, a historically conservative enclave of California held by Republicans for over 20 years until Newman’s win.

Newman says the idea that his district belongs to Republicans is an old stereotype. In a May 9 editorial, the Los Angeles Times called the recall an attempt at a rematch for Republicans. And indeed, Chang is on the ballot to replace Newman in the June 5 primary, right next to the recall.

While California Republicans have rallied around the initiative to repeal the gas tax, they’ve also targeted Newman for his apparent weakness. Newman says the effort subverts the intended purpose of recalling politicians.

“My last race was close to what electoral politics are supposed to be,” said Newman. “Two people making the argument. But this is something completely other, an abuse of the system and exploiting a loophole.”

Political action committee Reform California chairman and former San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio spearheads the recall and gas tax repeal. Emails and phone calls seeking comment from DeMaio were not returned.

Whether DeMaio’s effort to recall Newman will be successful remains to be seen: registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 8,000 in District 29, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Recall supporter Jon Coupal, president of influential California anti-tax group Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, calls the gas tax a regressive means to pay for the state’s infrastructure and says Newman was irresponsible by supporting it. Californians should not believe another transportation tax promise from state Democrats, Coupal said.

He also stressed the recall of Newman or plans to repeal the gas tax has nothing to do with party.

“This (gas tax) repeal is not going to be a Republican versus Democrat issue. There are a lot of Democrats in the Central Valley who feel the same way,” Coupal said in a phone interview.

The effort to remove Newman could also be viewed as a tactic to remove Democrats’ two-thirds majority in the senate. Repealing the gas tax has galvanized Republican support in an otherwise low-energy midterm election, and the resignation of state Sen. Tony Mendoza over sexual harassment claims earlier this year has put the supermajority on thin ice.

But Newman’s recall also turns up the heat for state Democrats.

Rob Stutzman, Republican political strategist and former aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said timing will play a major role in the recall effort.

State Democrats attempted to invalidate signatures gathered in the recall election, after signature gatherers were accused of presenting the initiative to repeal the gas tax. Under a new process approved by the Democrat-held Legislature, the recall effort was slowed down, but not stopped completely. Recall supporters filed a lawsuit challenging this new process and opponents filed a lawsuit to block the recall altogether.

Stutzman said pushing the recall to the June 5 primary gives Democrats the edge in turnout.

While Newman was not the deciding vote on the gas tax – and he even sponsored a ballot initiative mandating revenue generated from the tax be used only on transportation projects – he also voted to establish air quality regulations and extend cap-and-trade policies, neither of which are popular topics with the GOP.

“It’s political gamesmanship,” said Newman in a phone interview. “To the people I represent I say be mindful of the partisan politics. Don’t be fooled. Don’t be bamboozled by the political pretext. It’s an attempt to steal back a Senate seat I won fair.”

District 29 voters go the polls in less than two weeks to determine Newman’s political future. The gas tax repeal is expected to make the November ballot.

 

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