By Nick Cahill
SACRAMENTO – Delivering a parting gift to outgoing Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, California voters rejected a Republican-led attempt to repeal Brown’s recently enacted $52 billion transportation plan known as the gas tax.
Californians will continue paying 12 cents more per gallon for gasoline as well as increased motor registration fees, after 55 percent of voters rejected Proposition 6 as of Wednesday morning. The now voter-approved tax is expected to generate over $5 billion annually over the next decade for highway and bridge repairs.
The fourth-term governor introduced the plan in early 2017 and the Legislature fast-tracked it for passage just eight days later, raising state gasoline taxes for the first time in 23 years.
Brown, 80, claimed victory late Tuesday night in downtown Sacramento and thanked voters for agreeing to the tax.
“I’m going to have to say this is one of the most significant votes in America tonight, because where else have people voted to tax themselves to pay for what they need?” Brown pondered. “On to victory, let’s keep building California.”
Led by Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the Proposition 6 campaign used the repeal effort to boost GOP turnout across the Golden State. But in the final days before the election, the proponents ran out of cash and could only watch as Brown and the opposition campaign bombarded the airwaves with expensive advertisements. The opponents outraised the GOP backers by a nearly 10 to 1 margin and ultimately killed the measure.
Los Angeles resident Amy Wiwuga said Proposition 6 was the second most important item on the ballot after the congressional races. She suggested the GOP used “ploy tactics” to qualify the measure and convince conservatives to vote.
“I’m mad they think they could play games with public safety to get this initiative on the ballot to get conservative voters out,” Wiwuga said.
Orange County voter Andrew Smith drives at least 40,000 miles a year for work and isn’t convinced state leaders will actually put the new tax to good use. He says he voted in favor of Proposition 6 and took a jab at the state’s majority party.
“The way Democrats have moved the money around for years, it’s dirty,” Smith said.
In a blow for affordable housing and tenants’ rights advocates, voters also overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 10. The measure would have cleared the way for local governments to enact new rent control policies.
Proposition 10 campaigns eclipsed the $100 million spending mark since the measure qualified for the state ballot last June, making the rent control fight one of the most expensive propositions in state history. Backers, including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its founder Michael Weinstein, were outspent nearly 3 to 1 by a coalition of apartment building owners and real estate companies.
Apartment owners accused Weinstein of being an “anti-housing activist” and called the initiative misleading and dangerous for middle-class homeowners. Nearly 62 percent voted against Proposition 10.
“The stunning margin of victory shows California voters clearly understood the negative impacts Proposition 10 would have on the availability of affordable and middle-class housing in our state,” said Tom Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association, in a statement.
Sue Pack of Villa Park, a nurse and registered independent, owns a couple of buildings in Orange County and said she rents them “at a fair price.” Pack said she voted against Proposition 10 because she doesn’t want the state telling her what she can charge for rent.
Statewide voters did however greenlight $2 billion in new bonds meant for homeless housing and other services, passing Proposition 2 by a 22-point margin. They also cleared $1.5 billion for children’s hospital improvements, while another $8.9 billion water bond measure was still too close to call Wednesday morning.
Huntington Beach teacher Randy Sheets is glad voters were committed to improving California’s homelessness crisis.
“There have not been any answers presented on the housing issue in California, but the homeless issue is a genuine one that has to do with mental health and that was something I paid attention to on this ballot,” Sheets said of Proposition 2.
In a lighter result, Californians approved a measure giving lawmakers the opportunity to vote on starting the process of scrapping daylight saving time. The Legislature must approve the change by a two-thirds majority, and Congress must also give its OK to the switch.
A high-priced initiative that would have limited profits for dialysis companies failed miserably at the polls Tuesday night. Voters shot down Proposition 8 and subsequently protected the bottom lines of companies like DaVita and Fresenius Medical Care. The opponents coughed up over $110 million to kill the labor union-backed measure, the most ever raised to defeat or support a California ballot measure.
Farmers will have to adopt larger cages for egg-laying hens and breeding pigs over the next four years, after voters approved The Humane Society’s measure mandating larger living-spaces for certain farm animals.
“Now, thousands of farm animals will be spared of pain and suffering from being confined in tiny cages, barely big enough for them to turn around. We can’t thank you enough for voting Yes on 12, California!” the group tweeted.
In San Francisco, voters approved a tax on big businesses to fund services and housing for the homeless, despite opposition from the mayor and major tech moguls including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
With 44 percent of registered voters’ ballots counted, the proposal had garnered 59.9 percent of the vote. One of the most prominent supporters of the homeless tax proposal, billionaire Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, praised the result on Twitter.
“Prop C’s victory means the homeless will have a home and the help they truly need,” Benioff tweeted. “Let the city come together in love for those who need it most!”
Californians also chose a new governor, giving the nod to current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom – the first time a Democrat has succeeded another Democrat in the state’s top slot since the 1880s.
Newsom beat Cox, who conceded shortly after 9:30 p.m, 59-41.
In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein beat out an inter-party challenge from California state Sen. Kevin de Leon, 54-46.
Various U.S. House races Democrats hoped to flip remained too close to call less than two hours after polls closed.
Rounding off a California statewide ballot dominated by Democrats, incumbent Attorney General Xavier Becerra trounced Republican retired state judge Steven Bailey by over 1.4 million votes. The Los Angeles Democrat has sued the Trump administration over three dozen times during his short stint in office, while Bailey is mired in an ethics scandal he claims was timed to coincide with his run at the AG’s office.
Former Obama administration diplomat Eleni Kounalakis defeated state Sen. Ed Hernandez and replaces Governor-elect Gavin Newsom as lieutenant governor. Democratic incumbents Betty Yee and Alex Padilla retained their controller and secretary of state posts, while insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction races remained undecided early Wednesday.
Nicholas Iovino and Karina Brown contributed to this report.