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California Judge Busts State For Interfering With Gas Tax Vote
California judge finds that the state attorney general drafted a misleading summary of an anti-gas tax ballot measure.

Travis Allen
A superior court judge on Monday caught California officials cheating in an attempt to dissuade voters from blocking an increase in the statewide gasoline tax at the ballot box. Judge Timothy M. Frawley took the extreme step of re-writing the summary information for the ballot proposal after finding state Attorney General Xavier Becerra's draft text was unfair to gas tax opponents like Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach)

"It's outrageous that the attorney general intentionally tried to mislead California voters in an effort enforce [Governor] Jerry Brown's massive $52 billion gas tax," Allen said in a statement. "California voters will now see a new ballot title and statement that truly represents what this initiative will do -- repeal Jerry Brown's massively unpopular gas tax."

In April, the state legislature, controlled by a Democratic supermajority, enacted legislation the raising the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon and boosting the annual vehicle registration fee of $53 to a maximum of $175 per year. Each tax will automatically rise according to the annual inflation rate, raising a total of $52 billion from motorists over the next decade.

In May, Allen introduced a ballot initiative calling for a referendum on the tax hike. To get the initiative on the ballot, Allen needs to collect 365,880 signatures using state-approved ballot language.

Allen submitted language describing his measure as an effort that "repeals recent legislation that created new gas tax, diesel tax, vehicle registration fee, and zero-emission vehicle fee." Becerra rewrote that to read: "Eliminates recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing revenues dedicated for those purposes." The rewrite did not pass muster with the judge.

"The court agrees with petitioner that the attorney general's title and summary is confusing, misleading, and likely to create prejudice against the proposed measure," Judge Frawley concluded. "While the court is mindful of the deference afforded to the attorney general, it is clear to this court that the attorney general's title and summary does not fairly and reasonably inform voters of the real purpose of the measure in clear and understandable language."

Ordinary voters, the court ruled, would not have a clear understanding of what the initiative did from Becerra's choice of the phrase "repealing revenues," which would cause voters to think the initiative's sole purpose was to reduce spending on transportation projects.

"The title appears to be written to focus attention on the elimination of funding and avoid mentioning 'taxes' and 'fees,'" Judge Frawley wrote. "This is misleading and is likely to create prejudice against the measure."

By contrast, the court found Allen's ballot language was "clear" in its description of exactly what it would accomplish. The court did allow the attorney general some flexibility to describe aspects of reduced funding as long as, on the whole, the wording was true and impartial.

A copy of the ruling made final on Monday is available in a 350k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Allen v. Becerra (California Superior Court, Sacramento County, 9/22/2017)

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