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Effort underway to repeal gas tax increase

REGION — Supporters of a repeal to the increased state gas and car tax are about halfway to gathering the 584,400 needed California voter signatures to put a measure on the November ballot.

Carl DeMaio, San Diego city councilman and chair of Reform California, wants to stop the gas tax that went into effect in November 2017, and halt the roll-in car tax that will impact vehicle owners when they renew their registration this year.

The gas tax increase of 12 cents takes the tax from 29.7 cents per gallon to 41.7 cents per gallon. The diesel fuel tax increase of 20 cents raises the tax from 16 cents per gallon to 36 cents per gallon.

Vehicle fee increases in the new year will range from an additional $25 to $175 for nonelectric cars.

DeMaio said cost increases for an average family of four with two cars will add up to $779 more a year in gas, car and food expenses.

“It adds up real quickly,” DeMaio said. “The gas tax needs to stop, it hurts working families.”

DeMaio has concerns about how the tax money will be spent. The state increases cannot go toward freeway expansion, and there is no guarantee funds will be used to improve local roads.

“The law says money will go into the general fund and can be spent on anything,” DeMaio said.

DeMaio said millions from gas tax revenues have been spent on park maintenance and light rails, not roadways.

He also has concerns SANDAG might not get the money if it is diverted to cover the state deficit.

A number of North County mayors and council members are in agreement with DeMaio.

San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond and Oceanside Councilman Jerry Kern, both of whom are running for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, recently held a rally to repeal the gas tax. Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, also a SANDAG board member, said Escondido will only see a small increase in funds from the state gas tax.

“We are not going to refuse it, but we’ll pay a lot more in (state) debt,” Abed said.

Abed said there is a lack of trust in the state using the tax money wisely.

“We have the worse roads in the nation,” Abed said. “They’re (state representatives) are not using it properly as promised.”

He said raising taxes should be voted on at a city level, and allocation of funds decided on locally.

“People are fed up,” Abed said. “We need to reprioritize. The state is at a breaking point. Let’s find local solutions.”

DeMaio said polls show 74 percent of county voters support a tax repeal.

Oceanside Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery disagrees with repeal efforts. Lowery serves on the SANDAG and North County Transit District boards. He said the increase is needed to fund ongoing roadwork and pay for updated equipment.

“Both of them (SANDAG and NCTD) are planning on sending the money,” Lowery said. “There’s a definite maintenance issue, that’s what this is about. We need money for our infrastructure and don’t have very many choices.”

Matt Tucker, NCTD executive director, confirmed that extra tax funds are anticipated in the transit district’s budget.

“As it relates to NCTD, SB 1 makes a significant contribution towards (but does not fully fund) state of good repair needs,” Tucker said.

Extra funds will purchase seven new locomotives that cost more than $49 million, and 98 new buses at a price of about $51 million.

DeMaio said he sees the tax increase as unnecessary. He said he plans to launch an initiative to earmark current gas tax funds for that purpose.

He said that simple change will ensure enough money to repair roads without a tax increase. He and others are working to have an initiative ready in 2018.

As of Dec. 29, 2017, 250,000 signatures have been collected to put a gas and car tax repeal on the ballot. The deadline to gather needed signatures is in March.