California Gov. Jerry Brown may have been trying to shame opponents of his gas-and-car tax increase by calling them “freeloaders,” but so far the barb has backfired.
Assemblyman Travis Allen, who is spearheading a proposed ballot initiative to repeal Senate Bill 1, said he was inundated with calls after Mr. Brown slammed foes of the $0.12 tax hike on every gallon of gasoline, which kicks in Nov. 1.
“Our phone has been ringing off the hook,” Mr. Allen said. “Californians are outraged. Jerry Brown signs a $52 billion tax increase with another billion to buy off legislators with no vote of the people, and, to top it off, now he’s calling them freeloaders.”
Mr. Brown drew headlines this month when he ripped critics of Senate Bill 1, which he signed April 28 in order to fund road repairs and mass-transit projects. The $52 billion raised over 10 years will not go toward expanding or building new roads.
“The freeloaders — I’ve had enough of them,” Mr. Brown told The Orange County Register on May 12. “They have a president that doesn’t tell the truth, and they’re following suit.”
Instead of silencing gas tax foes, however, the comment has revved them up, much as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did last year when she blasted Republican Donald Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables.”
“We put out a warm welcome to all the freeloaders out there,” said John Kobylt, co-host of “The John and Ken Show” on KFI-AM in Los Angeles. “Jerry Brown says if you don’t want to pay new taxes for the roads, you’re a freeloader.”
Added Carl DeMaio of KOGO-AM in San Diego: “We’re just freeloading down here. The freeloaders are rebelling apparently because we’re sick and tired of being nickel-and-dimed to death.”
The conservative talk show hosts are leading an effort to recall state Sen. Josh Newman, Brea Democrat, over his vote in favor of SB1, targeting the vulnerable first-term legislator in an effort to send a message to Sacramento and eliminate the Democratic supermajority.
The bill passed both houses last month with the two-thirds majorities required to approve tax increases without voter approval — and with no votes to spare. Only one Republican voted in favor of the legislation.
Mr. DeMaio said he was stunned by the governor’s “freeloaders” swipe given that the state continues to offer generous welfare and pension benefits despite its $450 billion debt.
“When Jerry Brown says we’re a bunch of freeloaders, he obviously has not looked at his own social policies that allow people to get welfare without having requirements for work,” Mr. DeMaio said. “And, of course, don’t get me started about the largesse of the pension benefits and pay for government employees.”
He said the recall is months ahead of schedule after gaining tens of thousands of signatures in the first week — a total of 63,593 valid signatures are needed by Oct. 16 — even though some volunteers have been harassed outside stores, which he blamed on “Jerry Brown’s political team.”
“Now they’ve got blockers in the district and they’ve got a snitch line,” Mr. DeMaio said on the air. “The snitch line: ‘Call this line and report where the signatures are being gathered because we want to send down our truth squad.’ Well, they want to send down bullies to try to harass us.”
The tax would raise the state’s gas tax from $0.18 to $0.30 per gallon, tack on another $0.20 for diesel and increase annual registration fees by as much as $175 per vehicle. California already vies with Hawaii for the most expensive gas in the nation.
On Sunday, for example, California had the country’s priciest gas at $3.045 per gallon, followed by Hawaii at $2.976 per gallon, according to GasBuddy.
Mr. Brown has argued that the transportation package, which would raise $52 billion over 10 years, would bring the gas tax and fee hikes back to the same level as 30 years ago adjusted for inflation.
“Roads require money to fix,” Mr. Brown said during his visit to Orange County. “Republicans say there’s a magic source of money — it doesn’t exist. You want to borrow money and pay double? Or do nothing? Or take money from universities?”
Asked about the repeal, Mr. Brown borrowed a line from another famous Californian: actor Clint Eastwood.
“Go for it,” Mr. Brown said. “Make my day. Maybe people like gravel roads, but I don’t think so.”
Not buying the governor’s argument was Mr. Allen, who said the state Legislature has siphoned off funding dedicated for road repairs to the general fund and “pet projects” like high-speed rail.
He said “tens of thousands” of Californians have volunteered to help with the Repeal the Gas Tax campaign since he filed May 3 proposed ballot language. The attorney general’s office has until July 8 to return the title and summary, after which signature-gathering can begin.
Assembly Republicans also have supported the repeal, he said, which will need 365,880 valid signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.
“This is part of ordinary Californians fighting back against officeholders beholden to special interest groups and not their constituents,” Mr. Allen said. “The recall is one of the most direct routes. I think Josh Newman is in real trouble.”
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