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Did High Speed Rail De-rail the Tobacco Tax?

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

The final vote determining whether the tobacco tax, Proposition 29, passed or failed could be weeks away, but pundits are questioning what closed the numbers from two-thirds support in early polls to a near 50-50 finish.

While some say it was the advertizing blitz that did the measure in, others, like the Los Angeles Times editorial yesterday wondered, “perhaps — just perhaps — because a majority of voters perceived that it would be foolish for the state to embark on a whole new taxpayer-funded cancer research enterprise.”

Along the lines of the editorial, could it be that voters are leery of investing in big projects with segregated funds after months of hearing about the high-speed rail boondoggle?

When presented to voters, the HSR was talked about as a $33-billion project that would pay for itself after the state kicked in $9-billion in seed money. However, soon after voters made the commitment, reports challenged the cost and ridership estimates. Questions about federal aid and, more importantly, private investment were raised. The total cost bounced around like a dodge ball jumping to $98 billion before settling in the $68 billion range. I’m sure that will not be the final number.

With all the negative attention placed on the high speed rail, a recent USC Dornsife/LA Times poll shows that six out of ten voters would oppose the plan if they had another chance to vote on it.

It is not surprising that voters would be suspect about setting up another separate state venture using set-aside funds while the budget is in deficit – again.

As Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association president, Jon Coupal, told the LA Times, “(Voters) want value for their tax dollars, and they perceive correctly that they are not getting that in Sacramento.”

It would not be surprising if the shadow of the high-speed rail project had some influence on voters considering whether to endorse Proposition 29.

If HSR influenced the cigarette tax vote, what influence might it have when Governor Jerry Brown pushes his November tax plan? The governor has hugged the rail project close and won’t let it go. If voters continue to have buyer’s remorse about the rail project come November, why will they trust the man who champions that project with new tax dollars?

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