Poll: Small But Hard-Line Majority Favors Repealing Gas Tax Hike

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A gas pump fills a car with fuel at a gas station on May 10, 2017, in San Rafael. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California's SB 1 -- which most of you might know, shorthand form, as our brand-new gasoline tax increase -- was promoted earlier this year by Gov. Jerry Brown and its Democratic backers as a key to restoring the state's transportation infrastructure.

The bill -- now law -- includes a 12-cent-a-gallon increase in the state's levy on gasoline, a 20-cent-a-gallon increase on diesel fuel, a new fee for electric vehicles and other levies designed to generate about $5 billion a year for the next decade. That revenue, something like $52 billion over 10 years, would go to fixing streets, highways and bridges and to supporting transit.

But just one Republican in the Legislature voted for SB 1, and the tax hikes were nearly instantly targeted by a pair of repeal campaigns.

One of those two efforts, launched by GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach, would kill SB 1.

The second, by Sacramento attorney Thomas Hiltachk, would repeal SB 1 and amend the California Constitution to require a statewide vote on any future fuel tax or vehicle fee increases.


Given Californians' historic resentment of gas and car taxes -- Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003 in part because of a sharp increase in vehicle fees -- it's not hard to imagine a call for repeal finding a receptive audience.

And a poll released Friday by UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies confirms that suspicion. (The full survey is embedded below.)

The poll conducted earlier this month found 52 percent of likely voters contacted in the survey favor the repeal effort, while 43 percent oppose the repeal. The undecideds are an unusually low 5 percent. The poll contacted 1,000 registered voters, of whom 672 were deemed likely voters.

That gap may not sound like a lot, but UC Berkeley IGS pollster Mark DiCamillo said both sides appear to be entrenched.

"Sentiments are pretty hard, and I think that would make it a little more difficult to change voters' minds in a campaign," DiCamillo said.

He said the poll results suggest that the biggest factor in voters' support for SB 1 repeal is the perception that gas prices in California are just too high.

"So you're basically adding a tax onto something that voters already believe is high compared to other places," he said.

The survey found a typically big split between Republican and Democratic voters. Some 81 percent of GOP voters in the survey said they supported repeal, while 60 percent of Democrats said they were against it.

But DiCamillo said the position of independent voters is telling.

"You can always tell which way the wind is blowing in California politics by looking at the nonpartisan or 'no party preference' voters," he said. "And on this particular issue, nonpartisans favor repeal, 56 percent to 39 percent."

An overwhelming majority of survey participants appeared to agree with SB 1's central rationale -- that California's transportation infrastructure is in lousy shape. Forty-one percent of respondents said the state's roads and highway are in fair condition, with another 37 percent calling their condition poor.

But those voters also were strongly in favor of repeal: 53 percent who think the roads are just in fair shape support killing the new taxes and fees, along with 52 percent of those who say the roads are in poor condition.

Among the state's regions, only the Bay Area appears to oppose a repeal, with 60 percent of poll respondents saying they'd vote against it and 34 percent supporting the idea. DiCamillo said that's a reflection of widely held progressive or liberal views here.

"So people understand you'd be paying a little more for gas, but there's this higher importance attached to 'the greater good,' " DiCamillo said.

DiCamillo said the overall results suggest that, with Gov. Brown, the Legislature and labor unions strongly supporting SB 1, the stage is set for "a huge campaign" to head off the repeal.

Neither repeal proposal is close yet to getting enough petition signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

The state Supreme Court this week declined to hear Allen's challenge to Attorney General Xavier Becerra's ballot description of the measure, which needs 365,880 valid signatures by Jan. 8 to qualify for the ballot. As of this week, the campaign had not yet gathered 25 percent of the required signatures.

The constitutional amendment by Hiltachk, whose law firm represents the state Republican Party, needs 585,407 valid signatures to get on the ballot. Hiltachk filed a notice with the Secretary of State on Dec. 13 that it had gathered 25 percent of the required signatures -- a threshold that requires the Legislature to hold hearings on the proposal.

The poll contacted 1,000 registered voters, of whom 672 were deemed likely voters. The sampling error in the likely voter group was plus or minus 3.8 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Details of the poll questions, findings and methodology are in the document below.