Leader of Gas Tax Repeal Threatens Recall Drive Against Becerra

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Gas prices on display in San Rafael in May 2017, soon after Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1. The measure raised fuel taxes and vehicle fees to provide funding for road and street repair, transit and other transportation projects.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The leader of the initiative campaign to repeal California's fuel tax and vehicle fee increases announced Monday that he will launch a drive to recall Attorney General Xavier Becerra if the measure fails next week.

Carl DeMaio, the former San Diego city councilman who has become the public face of the repeal effort, said at a state Capitol media event he's targeting Becerra over the attorney general's allegedly deceptive title for Proposition 6.

Proposition 6 would repeal tax and fee increases imposed last year to fund road and street repairs, transit and other transportation projects statewide. It would also amend the state Constitution to require voter approval for any future fuel tax and vehicle fee increases.

DeMaio complained that the attorney general's official title for the initiative, which does not include a direct reference to repealing the gas tax, amounts to an attempt to "defraud" voters.

DeMaio said the wording confuses voters and asserted that's the reason for the apparent recent decline in support for the repeal.

The title, which was printed on repeal petitions circulated earlier this year and appears on the November ballot, reads: "Eliminates Recently Enacted Road Repair and Transportation Funding by Repealing Revenues Dedicated for Those Purposes. Requires Any Measure to Enact Certain Vehicle Fuel Taxes and Vehicle Fees Be Submitted to and Approved by the Electorate."

Ballots also include the following summary of Proposition 6: "Repeals a 2017 transportation law's taxes and fees designated for road repairs and public transportation. Fiscal Impact: Reduced ongoing revenues of $5.1 billion from state fuel and vehicle taxes that mainly would have paid for highway and road maintenance and repairs, as well as transit programs."

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DeMaio said recalling Becerra would serve to "punish the politician who signed off on this deceptive ballot title."

Becerra, a Democrat, is running for re-election against Republican Steven C. Bailey, a retired El Dorado Superior Court judge.

Asked to comment on DeMaio's announcement, Becerra's campaign issued a statement: "We do not respond to publicity stunts."

This is not the first time Becerra has been embroiled in a controversy over the wording of an initiative to repeal last year's tax and fee increases.

Last year, Southern California Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, launched a campaign to repeal the increases. He sued Becerra over his office's approved title for the initiative, which featured wording identical to that now targeted by DeMaio.

A Sacramento Superior Court judge sided with Allen and provided his own title for Allen's proposed initiative: "Repeals recently enacted gas and diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees. Eliminates road repair and transportation programs funded by these taxes and fees."

Becerra appealed. The state's 3rd District Court of Appeal struck down the lower court's ruling, finding that read together with the initiative's summary, "the text prepared by the attorney general is not misleading, argumentative, or likely to create prejudice against the measure."

Allen appealed to the state Supreme Court, which declined to review the appeal court's decision.