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CA Republicans Strike Working-class Tone During Gas Tax Debate

Last week, the California legislature voted to approve a $52 billion transportation bill that will go towards road repair and maintenance. Funding will come from increases in gas and diesel sales and excise taxes, an annual car fee, based on the cost of the car, and a Zero Emissions Car fee. However, SB 1, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose,) seems to have flipped the political spectrum. Some Republicans, who opposed the bill, were concerned it was going to negatively impact working families, who often have long commutes.

Temecula Republican Sen. Jeff Stone argued against the bill. Stone, a successful pharmacist, said the bill wouldn’t affect many of the people in the legislature who made six-figure salaries. But it would affect people who make about $40,000 per year and travel 140 miles a day going to-and-from work.

“This tax is aimed at the poor,” said Stone, “who are already spending 14 percent of their take-home pay on gas.”

Candice Packard, a social worker from Lake Elsinore, is one of those people Stone is referring to. She said, as a social worker, she doesn’t make much money and the gas tax will make life more difficult.

“It will affect me because I will be paying higher prices for gas that I must use in order to continue my job,” said Packard.

Although Republicans have traditionally supported slashing taxes on the wealthy, believing the wealth will eventually trickle down to working people, Stone suggested the legislature increase taxes on items like private jet fuel and luxury cars, which are used by the “Hollywood elite.”

Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Fresno) was also critical of the transportation bill for several reasons. He was concerned that the money would end up in the state’s general fund.

“I don’t trust agencies to spend the money wisely,” said Nielsen.

Nielsen also said the tax increase would be one more reason for companies to avoid California, which has a reputation for being an expensive state to do business in. He also said he was concerned that an increase in diesel costs would put “a heavy burden” on working people as the cost of goods would increase.

Several Democrats argued in favor of the bill. Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) said the bill was needed to fix the state’s crumbling roads. A transportation bill has not been passed since the days of Gov. Ronald Reagan, and road use has tripled, said Hertzberg.

Voter outrage over the gas tax has already created a backlash. Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) is facing a recall after he voted yes on SB 1. The bill is pending the Governor’s signature.

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