Poll: Road Repair Law Could Be Political Liability for California Democrats

Governor Jerry Brown speaks at a rally in favor of a $52.4 billion transportation funding plan.  (Katie Orr/KQED)

California's new transportation infrastructure fix, paid for by an increase in the state's gas tax, is opposed by a strong majority of voters in the state.

A poll out Friday from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies finds that 58 percent of registered voters oppose the law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in April. The findings could prove troublesome for Democrats in the Legislature running for re-election in 2018.

"If you're in a competitive district, it could become a campaign issue," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the IGS Poll.

Senate Bill 1, carried by Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), will provide $52.4 billion in the next 10 years to fix highways and local roads and fund public transportation. To do that, it would raise the state's gas tax by 12 cents, and add up to $175 on annual vehicle registration fees. The measure barely passed the Legislature, receiving the exact amount of votes (27 in the Senate, 54 in the Assembly) required to achieve the needed two-thirds supermajority.

The potential sting on the pocketbooks of Californians is a likely explanation of why 39 percent of the polls' respondents said they "strongly oppose" the new law.

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"That talks about the salience of the issue and the potential for the use of this in future elections," DiCamillo added.

A recall campaign focused on the gas tax hike has already begun in the 29th Senate District in Southern California. Republicans are targeting freshman Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who voted for the bill. Filings with the Secretary of State's Office on Wednesday show that supporters of the Newman recall have submitted nearly half of the necessary signatures they'll need to collect by October to force a fall election.

The poll's regional trends could also spell trouble for swing district Assembly members Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) and Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance). All three voted for the gas tax increase and represent districts in Orange and Riverside counties.

The poll finds that opposition to the road repair plan is strongest in those two areas. Seventy-two percent of voters in the Inland Empire and 67 percent of voters on the South Coast voiced disapproval. The law is most popular in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 46 percent of voters still opposed it, compared to 45 percent in favor.

The massive transportation plan passed only after a full-court press by Gov. Jerry Brown, whose help might soon be needed to help vulnerable Democrats keep their jobs.