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Judge likely to strike down ballot title for gas tax repeal

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POSTED September 20, 2017 8:29 p.m.

SACRAMENTO . (AP) — California’s attorney general wrote a misleading description of a ballot initiative to repeal the recently approved gas tax increase, a judge concluded in a tentative ruling issued this week.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s official ballot description would likely confuse voters because it focuses on the loss of transportation funding rather than the repeal of taxes, Sacramento County Superior Court judge Timothy Frawley wrote in his tentative opinion on Tuesday.
“The problem with the Attorney General’s title and summary is that an ordinary, reasonable elector, who is otherwise unfamiliar with the initiative, would not be able to discern what the initiative would do,” Frawley wrote.
Frawley will hear arguments Friday on the ballot title and summary, which appears on petition forms and the ballot. Judges rarely reverse their decision after issuing a tentative ruling.
Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen, a candidate for governor, is backing the repeal initiative and brought the lawsuit against Becerra’s ballot title. The description must be finalized before Allen and his allies can begin collecting signatures in an attempt to put the repeal bill on the November 2018 ballot.
“This brings us one step closer to repealing Jerry Brown’s hugely unpopular gas tax,” Allen said in a statement.
Becerra’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lawmakers voted in April to boost gas taxes and vehicle fees to raise $5 billion a year for road repairs. Starting Nov. 1, gas taxes will rise by $0.12 per gallon and diesel taxes by $0.20.
Next year, a new fee tied to vehicle registrations will cost between $25 and $175 depending on the value of the vehicle.  And in 2020, zero-emission vehicle owners will be charged a $100 fee with their vehicle registration since they do not contribute to road maintenance through gas taxes.
Raising money for rebuilding crumbling state highways and local roads was a top priority for Gov. Jerry Brown and capped years of effort to win support from the two-thirds of lawmakers required to raise taxes.
Becerra’s ballot title reads: “Eliminates recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing revenues dedicated for those purposes.” The ensuing description describes the specific taxes that would be repealed.
Allen proposed a title focused on taxes: “Repeals recent legislation that created new gas tax, diesel tax, vehicle registration fee and zero-emission vehicle fee.”
The judge did not write a new ballot title. Alternative language will likely be one subject discussed by lawyers during Friday’s court hearing, said Benjamin Pugh, a lawyer from Enterprise Counsel Group in Irvine representing Allen.

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