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Proposition 6: California’s gas tax repeal, explained

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Who’s behind it, who’s against it, and what it will mean for Los Angeles

Sharp Uptick In Gas Prices Forcing Some Gas Stations To Temporarily Close
Proposition 6 would kill a new gas tax—along with all the revenue it’s generating for transportation projects.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Simply put, Proposition 6 seeks to repeal increases on the gasoline tax and motor vehicle fees signed into law last year.

That tax is often called Senate Bill 1 (or SB1, for short). It’s expected to produce $54 billion over the next 10 years specifically for for transportation infrastructure across the state, including public transit projects, road resurfacing, and repairs of bridges and freeways.

The bill took effect November 2017 and imposes a 12-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline and a 20-cents-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel. It also levies new license fee on vehicles that can range from $25 to $175.

To ensure drivers of zero-emission vehicles also contribute to state transportation projects (since these cars don’t use gas but do put wear and tear on roads), the bill further imposes an annual $100 registration fee on these vehicles.

Proposition 6 would kill these taxes—along with all that funding for transportation projects.

The measure would leave in place gas taxes that existed prior to 2017. It would also make it much harder to create new taxes aimed at drivers in the future.

If approved, Proposition 6 would require voter approval for all gas and motor vehicle tax and fee increases proposed in the future.

Who’s behind it?

Proposition 6 is backed by a political action committee called Reform California. The group is led by former San Diego City Councilmember and radio host Carl DeMaio.

What impact would it have on Los Angeles?

If passed, Proposition 6 will save Los Angeles drivers a little over $1 every time they visit the gas station. Over time, that could mean significant savings for people who rely on cars for daily transportation (those who take public transit probably won’t see much benefit).

But repeal of SB1 will also mean a significant loss of revenue for road repairs and many of the region’s most anticipated transit projects.

The city of Los Angeles alone has applied for SB1 dollars for more than 65 transportation projects so far, and state funding from the gas tax is crucial to Metro’s plans to accelerate completion of new rail and rapid bus lines in time for the 2028 Olympics.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said that cutting SB1 funding would delay construction of a train station near LAX, as well as a light rail line connecting the Gateway Cities to Downtown LA and a new transit line through the Sepulveda Pass. Repairs and resurfacing work on the 5, 10, and 605 freeways would also be pushed back three to five years, according to a report from Metro.

Arguments for

The main argument for the measure is that paying fewer taxes will save drivers money. According to supporters, “the typical family of four” stands to save $779.28 in taxes, should the initiative succeed.

Supporters also say that, by directing funds brought in by gas taxes toward rail projects and local bus systems, the state is spending that revenue inappropriately. Since drivers pay gas taxes, supporters say, the money should only be spent on road repairs or construction of new roads—projects that serve drivers exclusively, in other words.

Arguments against

Opponents of the measure argue that repealing SB1 will place thousands of infrastructure projects in jeopardy without a clear plan in place to get them started again. The proposition’s requirement that any future gas taxes be approved by voters will also make it difficult to secure new funding for these projects, meaning that important repair projects could be delayed for years.

Opponents also point out that, while much of the money collected through SB1 does go toward mass transit projects, California voters approved Proposition 69 in June, which requires that revenue collected from the measure can only be spent on projects that are directly connected to transportation.

Who supports it?

Supporters include the California Republican Party, along with many prominent Republican officials at the local and federal level (Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise both contributed funds to get the initiative on the ballot).

The National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association are also supporters.

Who opposes it?

The measure is opposed by Governor Jerry Brown and the California Democratic Party. The California Chamber of Commerce, the California Labor Federation, the League of Women Voters, and the Sierra Club of California are also among the opponents.

At a local level, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the LA County Board of Supervisors, and a long list of local transportation, labor, and environmental advocacy groups all oppose the measure.

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