Anger over new gas tax gives California Republicans a chance for revival

While Ronald Reagan was a governor of California before becoming President, the Republican party has been a weak political minority here for decades. The last time Republicans won the Golden State during a presidential election was in 1988. However, public anger over new gas taxes may give the GOP an opportunity to increase its presence in the state.

As John Meyers of the Los Angeles Times reports:

Less than seven weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a sweeping $5.2-billion package of proposals to fix California’s roads and highways. To pay for it, the base excise tax on gas goes up by 12 cents a gallon in November. Diesel fuel taxes will rise by 20 cents a gallon.

There’s also a new annual vehicle fee the DMV will charge to help fund the transportation projects, based on a vehicle’s value and ranging from $25 to $175. Brown has made a frequent point of defending the necessity of the transportation plan, which won a supermajority vote in both legislative houses and earned the support of business and transportation groups.

While Governor Brown may have convinced the Democrat-controlled California legislature over these additional taxes, he doesn’t appear to have convinced taxpayers. And therein lies the opportunity for the Republicans.

Californians hate bad roads. But they may hate taxes even more. In a new statewide poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, 58% of voters surveyed said they oppose the tax-and-spend transportation plan.

The California GOP is making two moves against the gax taxes. First, they have organized a recall effort against Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), a freshman legislator who voted for the tax increase. Second, Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) is seeking an initiative to repeal the tax increases.

This initiative could alter significantly the 2018 state elections if it makes the ballot.

It could force Democrats in battleground legislative races to defend the tax. The California Democratic Party might have to open up its sizable war chest. Perhaps even Brown, by then on the homestretch of his political career and facing questions about his legacy, would dip into his $15 million campaign bank account for the transportation plan he helped craft.

Even vulnerable GOP members of Congress might benefit, giving them something other than President Trump to talk about. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy recently suggested that the unpopular gas tax could fuel strong Republican turnout next year.

Strong Republican turnout could be strong for no other reason than to punish Governor Brown for his calling Republicans “freeloaders” during the gas tax debate. While Republicans aren’t anarcho-capitalists, the vast majority of them vote for the GOP because they don’t want the government to burden entreprenuers.

While it’s too soon to tell how the 2018 election will play out, at the very least the prospect of a gas tax repeal initiative ought to put state Democrats on the defensive.

Given how active – and destructive – the Democrats have been in the state, that can be nothing but a good thing.