Updated Oct. 5, 2:52 p.m.
The campaign to repeal California’s recent gas tax increase for transportation projects says government agencies are illegally using public money to drum up opposition to Proposition 6.
The Yes on 6 campaign has filed complaints with the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the district attorneys in San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento counties.
At a news conference in Sacramento on Wednesday, Carl DeMaio with Yes on 6 said Caltrans employees and contractors — as well as Sacramento Regional Transit, the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission and LA Metro — have produced or handed out materials that talk up the value of the fuel tax and vehicle fee increases approved last year by Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers under Senate Bill 1.
The roughly $5 billion per year in additional revenue, which funds road and highway repairs and other transportation projects, would be repealed if Proposition 6 is approved.
DeMaio referred to a picture that was sent to the campaign this week. The picture shows LA Metro staff handing out candy with a flier against Prop 6.
“They were questioned, ‘Who are you?’ and they said, ‘We work for LA Metro,’” DeMaio said. “And they're standing in front of the transit stations and the metro stations in Los Angeles. This is inexcusable."
The No On 6 campaign says it has followed the law, but referred reporters to the agencies in question about their activities.
Pauletta Tonilas with LA Metro says her agency ran its “educational materials” by its attorneys before it printed them.
“Many of those projects have state and federal funding assumptions, and Metro stands to benefit from a large funding source from Senate Bill 1. And we believe it is our obligation and our duty to make sure that the public is informed,” Tonilas said.
The campaign also has a picture of a Caltrans business card with SB1 in one corner and the agency logo in another corner. The card was handed out with a flier that says “Prop 6 eliminates thousands of jobs and hurts our economy.”
Caltrans issued a statement that says, “It is our understanding that these individuals were private contractors not Caltrans employees. Regardless, the Department does not condone political advocacy or the distribution of campaign information on work project sites and is contacting its contractors to remind them of this.”
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association says it may file a federal lawsuit against any agencies it believes used taxpayer money to pay for No on 6 campaign literature or “educational materials” that may have broken campaign finance laws.
On Thursday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission responded to one of the Yes On Prop 6 complaints that focuses on an MTC newsletter from September. The letter says in part, “Prop 6 likely would cost the average family hundreds of dollars more in increased car repairs than it could expect to save in lower taxes,” similar to language in the state voter guide.
According to Randy Rentschler, Director of Legislation and Public affairs for the commission, the flier is not campaign material.
“The law is the law and our lawyers guide us as to what the law is,” he said. “Public agencies are allowed by California statute to put out information that is even and is just the facts. That’s all we do. We don’t get involved in any sort of campaign on one side or the other.”
On Friday, Sac RT VP of Communications and Partnerships Devra Selenis said that the emails acquired by DeMaio through a California Public Records Act request show the agency was planning to produce educational materials before Prop 6 qualified for the ballot.
"It's 100 percent educational on our side. I contacted Valley Vision about an SB1 campaign. This was before Prop 6 was on the ballot,” Selenis said. “The education point is really important. It's important to let the public know how Sac RT is spending the SB1 money."
The first of the emails DeMaio released is dated June 20. The Yes On 6 campaign submitted signatures to the California Secretary of State’s office April 30, and the measure was approved for the ballot June 25.