California Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaks during an interview with the Associated Press. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Now Xavier Becerra is using his entire fist to squash attempts to repeal the state’s new 12-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase and $25 to $175 boost in annual vehicle registration fees.
Repealing the taxes championed by Gov. Jerry Brown would be terrible for California, whose roads and bridges have deteriorated to a dangerous degree over the past decade. But the attorney general is stooping to new lows of electoral deception to try to stop it, and that’s just plain wrong.
The issue is an initiative by Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, to repeal the increased tax and fees. He hopes to qualify it for the November 2018 election.
Becerra insisted that the title on the signature petitions make no mention of repealing “taxes and fees.” Instead, he directed that it say it would “repeal revenues” for road repair and transportation funding.
Seriously. “Repeal revenues.” Whatever that means.
Becerra’s obfuscation is a pathetic attempt to hide the truth and discourage voters from signing the petitions. That is essentially what Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley concluded when Allen appealed the attorney general’s petition language.
The judge called Becerra’s title and summary “confusing, misleading, and likely to create prejudice against the proposed measure.” It “obscures the chief purpose of the initiative: repeal of the recently enacted taxes and fees.”
Frawley ordered new language, explicitly stating that the initiative would repeal those taxes and fees.
Becerra appealed to the state Court of Appeal, saying the judge overstepped his authority. Last week, the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento ruled in Becerra’s favor, deciding that his summation of the initiative was “neutrally presented.” State law gives the attorney general “considerable latitude” in writing the official description, the court ruled.
Common sense tells us Frawley got the substance right. Allen says he will appeal the decision, taking it to the state Supreme Court.
While this fight is over the initiative petition language, the attorney general also controls the wording on the ballot and the short summary in the ballot pamphlet. In each case, the wording is supposed to be true, impartial and convey the measure’s chief purposes and points.
But, like his predecessors, Becerra, who must stand for election next year, is using his power over initiatives to sway voters and score political points with supporters — in this case to protect the governor’s transportation tax plan. It was Brown who earlier this year appointed Becerra to replace Kamala Harris as attorney general.
There’s a remedy for this. The responsibility for presenting clear information to voters should be taken away from politicians and turned over to the non-partisan state legislative analyst.
Political leaders aren’t big on giving up power. So it will probably take a good-government initiative to get it done. We can only imagine what that petition title might say.