Vote 08: Proposition 91 defeated

Eyewitness News coverage of Vote 08
GLENDALE (KABC) In the official state voter information guide, the original supporters of Proposition 91 included a statement saying, "VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION 91. IT'S NO LONGER NEEDED." There is no rebuttal argument.

The argument was not a typo.

To fund more freeway lanes and expand mass transportation, California taxes every gallon of gasoline we pump into our cars and trucks. But some transportation activists say those gas taxes are being wasted by state lawmakers.

"The legislature still thinks that that is money they can take for whatever they want," said Kymberleigh Richards, Southern California Transit Association.

In 2006, a coalition was formed to author Proposition 91 with the belief that the state Legislature had been exploiting Proposition 42 -- the Transportation Congestion Improvement Act -- to divert money from transportation funds into the state's general fund, according to former coalition member Jim Earp, who is also executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs.

Proposition 42, created in 2002, amended the state Constitution to ensure that money allocated to transportation funds was actually spent on transportation -- rather than on education, health care or anything else. It passed with 69.1 percent of the vote, but it left a loophole.

With a two-thirds vote, the Legislature could declare a fiscal emergency and override the proposition to continue taking transportation money for general purposes. The problem was, the Legislature regularly managed to get the two-thirds vote and raided the funds repeatedly, Earp said.

Proposition 91 would prevent such borrowing and would require the funds that were already borrowed to be repaid more quickly than previously allowed.

Earp worked hard to create the proposition, but in a bizarre twist, he wanted it dead.

"There's no additional value really to passing Proposition 91," said Earp.

Proposition 91 was a rogue proposition. It was created as a threat to get legislators to stop using gasoline tax revenues for anything but transportation projects. And it worked.

A group headed up by the governor and legislators sponsored Proposition 1A back in 2006, which voters overwhelmingly approved. But Prop 91 refused to die. That's because more than 1 million signatures supporting it had already been turned in to election officials, qualifying it for the ballot.

"Once you put the signatures into the counties for that process, they're not yours anymore -- it belongs to the state," said Earp.

Now Earp may say that the current law protects gas-tax revenues, but Richards says while Prop. 1A may have made it harder for the legislature to dip into gas-tax money, Prop. 91 would have made it practically impossible.

"Prop. 1A partially closed the loophole in Proposition 42. Prop. 91 closes it so tightly that it wouldn't be worth the legislature or the governor's time to attempt to divert those funds," said Richards.

"We feel that 1A really did what Proposition 91 was supposed to," Earp said, adding that voting in favor of Proposition 91 "would just be a few more nails in the coffin lid."

The odds were against 91. Hardly anyone other than the Southern California Transit Advocates had publicly supported it.

Representatives from both sides agree that the goals and effects of 1A and 91 are similar.

City News Service contributed to this report.


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