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November 2018 Election: Proposition 6, gas tax repeal, explained

What it is, who’s for it, and what impact it will have on San Francisco

CA Gov. Jerry Brown Raises Gas Tax Ahead Of Revised State Budget Proposal Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

What’s Proposition 6?

Simply put, Proposition 6 repeals a tax on gasoline and motor vehicles signed into law last year.

That tax is often called Senate Bill 1 (or SB1, for short). It’s expected to produce $54 billion over the next 10 years for transportation infrastructure across the state, including public transit projects, road resurfacing, and repairs of bridges and freeways.

The bill imposes a 12-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline and a 20-cents-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel. It also levies new license fee on vehicles that can range from $25 to $175. To ensure drivers of zero-emission vehicles also contribute to state transportation projects (since these cars don’t use gas but do put wear and tear on roads), the bill further imposes an annual $100 registration fee on these vehicles.

Proposition 6 would kill these taxes—along with all that funding for transportation projects.

The measure would leave in place gas taxes that existed prior to 2017. It would also make it much harder to create new taxes aimed at drivers in the future. If approved, Proposition 6 would require voter approval for all gas and motor vehicle tax increases proposed in the future.

Who’s behind it?

Proposition 6 is backed by a political action committee called Reform California. The group is led by former San Diego City Councilmember and radio host Carl DeMaio.

What impact will it have on San Francisco?

Money from the gas tax is supposed to fund transit infrastructure. The Washington DC-based transit research group TRIP regularly declares San Francisco as the home of some of the worst roads in the entire country.

The San Francisco County Transit Authority estimates that SB1 nets $390 million for the Bay Area, including $60 million for San Francisco road repair, plus $25 million for BART, Caltrain, and the ferries.

On the other hand, AAA regularly reports that the Bay Area has some of the highest gas prices in the country, frequently breaking into the number one spot. This on top of what are already nation-leading cost of living expenses.

Arguments for Proposition 6

The main argument for the measure is that paying fewer taxes will save drivers money. According to supporters, “the typical family of four” stands to save $779.28 in taxes, should the initiative succeed.

Supporters also say that, by directing funds brought in by gas taxes toward rail projects and local bus systems, the state is spending that revenue inappropriately. Since drivers pay gas taxes, supporters say, the money should only be spent on road repairs or construction of new roads—projects that serve drivers exclusively, in other words.

Arguments against Proposition 6

Opponents of the measure argue that repealing SB1 will place thousands of infrastructure projects in jeopardy without a clear plan in place to get them started again. The proposition’s requirement that any future gas taxes be approved by voters will also make it difficult to secure new funding for these projects, meaning that important repair projects could be delayed for years.

Opponents also point out that, while much of the money collected through SB1 does go toward mass transit projects, California voters approved Proposition 69 in June, which requires that revenue collected from the measure can only be spent on projects that are directly connected to transportation.

Who supports it?

Supporters include the California Republican Party, along with many prominent Republican officials at the local and federal level (Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise both contributed funds to get the initiative on the ballot).

The National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association are also supporters.

Who opposes it?

The measure is opposed by Governor Jerry Brown and the California Democratic Party. The California Chamber of Commerce, the California Labor Federation, the League of Women Voters, and the Sierra Club of California are also among the opponents.

At a local level, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the LA County Board of Supervisors, and a long list of local transportation, labor, and environmental advocacy groups all oppose the measure.

Further reading