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State political watchdog agency investigating Caltrans for anti-gas tax repeal

REGION — The state’s political watchdog agency is investigating allegations that a Caltrans work crew was campaigning against a repeal of the state’s gas tax while on the clock.

Supporters of Proposition 6, the ballot initiative to repeal the gas tax, allege that in late August a road crew hired by Caltrans was passing out campaign materials along State Route 78 encouraging motorists to reject the repeal attempt.

Yes on 6 Chairman Carl DeMaio filed several complaints against Caltrans and the No on 6 campaign, including with the District Attorney’s office and the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FCCP).

The FCCP confirmed in a letter dated Sept. 12 that the agency’s enforcement division is investigating the allegations. 

DeMaio told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the road crew was passing out flyers urging a “No” vote on the proposition along Highway 78 between Ramona and Julian.

Witnesses took photos of a Caltrans supervisor sitting in his truck where the fliers were being handed out and a photograph of hundreds of fliers. 

Caltrans Director Laurie Berman said shortly after the incident that the contractors were not state employees, but the department did not condone the actions. The No on 6 campaign has also denied any role in the incident. 

Prop. 6, the Voter Approval for Future Gas and Vehicle Taxes and 2017 Tax Repeal Initiative, would repeal the gas and diesel tax increased passed by the state legislature. If it passes, voters would have to approve any future gas tax increases. 

Supporters of the gas tax said it is necessary to address billions of dollars in overdue infrastructure repairs and maintenance across the state.

Opponents say that the tax will cost the average family $700 a year and hurt the poorest residents the most, and argue that the tax isn’t guaranteed to pay for transportation and infrastructure repairs because it goes into the state’s general fund. 

DeMaio has also publicly called for Berman to resign following the allegations.