Gas Tax Poll Sends a Tremor Through the Political Landscape

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

A tremor ran through the 2018 California elections with the release of the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll that shows widespread disdain for the recently passed gas tax and vehicle fees–even before collection of the tax begins in November. The gas tax issue could sway California elections from the governor’s race on down, especially if an initiative effort to repeal the measure makes the ballot.

There is a long way to go before November 2018. Other issues could come to dominate that election. A test of the gas tax could come earlier if the recall effort against Democratic senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) qualifies for the ballot.

But the potential of a gas tax revolt is offering interesting shadows in my cracked crystal ball as we look ahead to 2018.

The IGS poll found California registered voters opposed the gas tax plan 58% to 35%. Those strongly opposing the plan stood at a solid 39%. Strong supporters were only at 14%.

While these numbers might raise concerns for legislators in closely contested districts who voted for the tax, the gas tax issue would magnify if an initiative to repeal the tax makes the 2018 ballot.

Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) has filed a gas tax repeal measure.

If the gas tax repeal were on the ballot and the idea gained the passionate support indicated by the poll, candidates for office would face the simple question. Are you for or against the ballot measure—for or against repealing the gas tax for which many legislators approved? Voters well could use the candidate’s response to the question to determine for whom they will vote in the election.

The candidates for governor and other statewide offices would face the same question as legislative candidates.

The prospect of the measure qualifying for the ballot was iffy, but the IGS poll could change things. Money from outside Sen. Newman’s district has fueled the recall effort, state Republican Party money included. If the same supporters see the gas tax issue as possibly flipping seats and tightening up races around California, a windfall of money could be headed to support the initiative.

Gas tax increase head cheerleader, Gov. Jerry Brown, scores well in the IGS poll. But, by November 2018, the outgoing governor will be less relevant to the California voters who will be choosing a new chief executive while sending a message about the gas tax both through their votes on the initiative and votes on candidates. It will matter more to them what a future governor has to say about the issue.

Remember when Jerry Brown pledged that all tax increases would have to go before voters? The poll indicates what would have happened if he applied that test to the gas tax.

Long way to go, but the poll could mark a disturbance in the force that makes up current California politics.

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