Prop. 91 on the ballot for voters

January 30, 2008 7:43:00 PM PST
When California voters head to the polls on February 5th, they face a decision on a proposition that has been abandoned by the very people who got it on the ballot. Prop. 91 seeks to protect transportation funds collected from the gas sales tax. In the past, that money has been taken to balance the budget. However, opponents say 91 is no longer necessary.

An 18 cent tax per gallon of gas and diesel is supposed to be used for transportation projects. Not just roads and highways, but public transportation as well.

But in the past, this $1.4 billion dollar pot of money was raided by the Legislature to help balance the budget.

"The Legislature was borrowing the money, literally taking it. There was no idea of repaying it at all, which was allowed in those days. You know, you didn't have to repay it, you could just take it,"

That's why people like Jim Earp, Executive Director of the California Alliance for Jobs, put together a petition drive to get Proposition 91 on the ballot. It locks up the gas sales tax so no one can touch it, ever, under any conditions.

But the push for 91 was a political tactic, to pressure the legislature to act on its own. It did, and in 2006, Prop 1A was the result.

"When we got to the point we were ready to qualify, the legislature woke up and realized they had to do something. So we sat down and forged an agreement with them. That's how we got 1A on the ballot," Jim Earp, California Alliance for Jobs.

But in the meantime, Prop-91 also made it onto the ballot, with more signatures than Earp intended, making it the accidental initiative.

"We didn't submit almost 400,000 signatures which we were told would be enough to keep us from qualifying, but as it turned out it qualified by about 75-hundred signatures," says Earp.

Earp is now urging voters to vote 'no' on 91 because he says Prop 1A now protects the gas sales tax.

"Proposition 1A already does that. The voters, by 77 percent, told the legislature they don't want the legislature or governor messing around with transportation money. We've already accomplished that. There's no added value to passing Prop. 91," says Earp.

"Regardless of the fact that voters approved 1A by a very wide margin in 2006, the legislature still thinks that's money they can take for whatever they want," Kimberleigh Richards, Southern California Transit Advocates. Richards says Prop. 91 is needed because Prop 1A still leaves the door open for borrowing. The state can borrow twice in 10 years, and has to pay the money back within three years, with interest.

Prop. 91 would leave no option for borrowing under any conditions.

"It's very clear that the voters of this state want the gas sales tax to be spent on transportation, highways, roads, public transit. And the legislature and the Governor believe that's money that can be raided to balance the budget otherwise," says Richards.

The Bay Area gets about $300 million dollars a year in transportation funds from the gas sales tax.