Burbank, Calif. (CN) – As traffic inched along Interstate 5 in Burbank, California on Thursday morning, Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox asked a crowd at a Walmart parking lot if they were ready to repeal a statewide gas tax in November.
The crowd cheered as they stood in front of a big, yellow bus that’s part of a statewide tour behind Proposition 6, the campaign to repeal a recent gas tax hike. Republican candidates like Cox have made the repeal a focus of their campaigns, a rallying cry for voters in Blue California.
The gasoline and vehicle registration tax increase passed by Democratic lawmakers last year is projected to generate $52 billion over the next decade – with a $54 billion plan to pay for road repairs and aging infrastructure across the state.
Blame for the tax increase has been placed on outgoing Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is leading in the polls against Cox in the governor’s race.
“[Newsom] favors the government sticking their hands in our pockets with this gas tax,” Cox said at Thursday morning’s rally.
He said Sacramento politicians and special interest groups are funding the opposition to the repeal. According to the California Secretary of State's office, Cox has contributed $250,000 of campaign funds to Proposition 6.
Organizers behind the repeal effort have labeled their effort as bipartisan, but earlier this year Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman was recalled by a Republican-led campaign due to his support of the gas tax, despite not being the deciding vote on the issue.
At Thursday’s rally, Burbank resident Vicky Alonzo said she sees the issue as Republicans versus Democrats, because Democratic politicians passed the gas tax.
“They did so without our voices heard,” Alonzo said. “I send my family information on the issue but I don’t always get a response on Facebook.”
North Hollywood resident Robin Lawrence said she attended the rally because she wanted to pick up yard signs to show her support for the repeal effort.
Lawrence, a semi-retired background artist in the entertainment industry, said she receives some benefits from her late husband’s military pension, but because of her fixed income she wants to know why she was not allowed to vote on the tax increase.
“Where does the money go? I can only do so much research but it’s hitting me in my pocket,” Lawrence said. “I consider myself the working poor.”
Polling for the gas tax repeal has surged and waned leading up to November. A May USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll showed support for the gas tax was at 38 percent before the repeal initiative was put on the ballot.
A September poll from the Public Policy Institute of California showed 52 percent of voters supported the gas tax and most recently, a poll commissioned by multiple media organizations, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, showed the repeal led by a 52-35 percent margin.
Carl DeMaio, organizer behind the proposition, said their initiative was placed on the California ballot with the incorrect title. Proposition 6 is titled, “Eliminates Certain Road Repair and Transportation Funding.” DeMaio said it should have been “Gas Tax Repeal Initiative.”
DeMaio said this title was deliberately placed by Democratic lawmakers to confuse voters.
“They’re trying to steal their vote,” DeMaio said in a phone interview prior to the rally. “I will tell you this, voters are going to be angry after the election if they feel that they were duped after the vote.”
In response, repeal organizers sent out 2 million black and white flyers to voters claiming to be a correction to the ballot title and also sent out robocalls to an undisclosed number of voters about their “correction.”
The Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office issued an advisory to say the robocall was providing voters with “misleading” information and was not an official correction, because that can only be done by state officials.
A spokesperson for the California Secretary of State Office said there were no filings from the court challenging the language of the Proposition 6 ballot label. By state law, the repeal campaign would have had to file a challenge by Aug. 13. The Attorney General’s Office prepares the title and summary for each ballot measure and their office declined to comment Thursday.
In a Twitter exchange, L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan said the Proposition 6 campaign was behind the robocall and a spokesperson for San Diego County said voters received the robocall as well, but officials did not issue an advisory.
DeMaio said, “If they’re going to lie to me about the initiative, then that means I can’t trust them about what they’re going to spend on the gas tax.”
He added more politicians who oppose the will of the people could face recall efforts, similar to Newman’s ousting.
Authors of the gas tax said the 12-cent increase is necessary to keep up with inflation and aging roadways across the state. If repealed, hundreds of transportation and road projects could lose their funding, according to gas tax supporters.
In May, Gov. Brown called the repeal effort “stupid” and “devious,” arguing that it was only a political effort by state Republicans.
The state’s Transportation Department has mounted an aggressive campaign to show the number of road projects on the chopping block and passed legislation that guaranteed tax funding would go toward road repairs.
DeMaio said the Proposition 6 campaign expects to raise $2.2 million to $2.4 million in actual advertisements leading up to Election Day. In September, anti-Proposition 6 funding climbed to $30 million.
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