Good morning, California.

“We’re closing that chapter in the history of our company, but we’re opening a new chapter”— Bechtel Chief Operating Officer Jack Futcher, announcing plans to close the engineering giant’s corporate headquarters in San Francisco after more than century and move to Reston, Va.

John Cox calls for gas tax repeal. Gas tax author fires back

John Cox with Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican from Bieber.

GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox, in the Capitol Thursday to visit Republican lawmakers, was telling me how he intends to campaign to repeal the 12-cent per gallon gasoline tax, when Sen. Jim Beall, the author of the gas tax measure, ambled by.

“Not going to happen,” Beall, a San Jose Democrat, growled as he walked to his office.

Cox helped fund the signature gathering to qualify the repeal initiative for the November ballot. Polls show it has appeal across parties. Republicans believe it will increase voter turnout.

Cox: “By the time I get done talking about the waste and inefficiency at CalTrans, I think people will say, ‘I want roads fixed, but I want the money used efficiently.’”

How would he replace the $5 billion a year that would disappear if the tax is repealed? “Efficiencies. That’s what I do in my business.”

Beall said later: “The biggest waste, fraud and abuse is not doing anything, and letting things fall apart.”

The bill that created the gas tax requires greater oversight of transportation spending. On Tuesday, 80 percent of voters approved Proposition 69, requiring that gas tax money be limited to transportation projects.

The politics of gas tax repeal: “If I were Cox, that’s what I would talk about,” Democratic consultant Katie Merrill told me at a Sacramento Press Club event Thursday. Does that mean Cox can defeat Democrat Gavin Newsom in November? “No.”


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The power of a $5 donation

Ask any politician which they’re prefer: a $3.5 million campaign donation from New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg, or $5 increments from Leslie Kensill, a retired nurse living in Los Banos.

Bloomberg’s, of course. But for an ambitious politician, the loyalty of Kensill and hundreds or thousands of supporters like her over a career can be priceless.

CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall explored the power of small-dollar donors in the 2018 race for governor.

Why it matters: Getting lots of small donations limits the influence of big money donors. Small donors also are a source of votes and volunteers.

Rosenhall found that former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa relied on huge donors such as Bloomberg, and got less than 1 percent of his money in increments of $200 or less.

Gavin Newsom, the top vote getter on Tuesday, got almost $2.6 million in small sums, or 9.3 percent of his total. Kensill, for one, gave him $5 at a time, $125 so far.

Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, finds that 13 percent of donations to gubernatorial and legislative candidates nationally came in amounts of $250 or less. In California, it was just 4 percent.

National context: Congressman John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, is pushing legislation that would match each donation up to $150 for federal candidates with six times the amount in government funds.Sarbanes promised it will pass if Democrats take control of Congress. Such ideas have faltered in the California Legislature.

Campaign money takes different forms

Consumer Watchdog, a Los Angeles* advocacy group, is calling on Google to drop its opposition to an initiative headed for the November ballot that seeks more online privacy protection for consumers.

The initiative’s opponents are questioning whether Consumer Watchdog is fully disclosing any financial ties with the initiative’s funder, San Francisco developer Alastair MacTaggart.

Background: A Consumer Watchdog representative attended he shareholder meeting this week for Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and urged the company to abandon its opposition to the initiative. The company declined.

The politics: Consumer Watchdog long has advocated for consumer privacy, but Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio says the group is opaque about its donations.

Now, Maviglio, representing tech and telecommunications companies opposing the initiative, is taking aim at MacTaggart, who has spent $3.5 million to place the initiative on the ballot:

“Alastair MacTaggart believes in privacy so much that he’s hiding the contributions he’s made to a so-called ‘non-profit’ dark money group in exchange for their helping his campaign without being subject to the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws.”

Jamie Court, head of Consumer Watchdog, said MacTaggert has given no money beyond spending $1,000 for two tickets to the group’s “Rage for Justice” dinner last week.

“We do hope Alastair will come back next year to celebrate the victory, and we will go to the Google board meeting and raise the next big issue reminding the company of the error of its ways.”

The issue: Nonprofit advocacy groups from the right and left can raise and spend unlimited sums and take stands on initiatives. But they’re under no legal obligation to publicly disclose their donors, unlike candidates or initiative campaigns which must identify contributors.

  • A previous version misstated where Consumer Watchdog is based.

Confronting California’s housing crisis

California voters gave a split verdict on local measures intended to ease the housing crisis, approving four and rejecting at least three.

CALmatters’ Matt Levin offers a handy graphic showing how the measures fared. Voters in the slow-growth college town of Davis approved more student-focused housing. In Southern California, voters apparently agreed to eventually convert the Los Alamitos race track to homes.

They’re all warm-ups for big battles that likely will play out over rent control and property taxes on the November ballot.

The real cost of going to Cal

Sadia Kahn gets student aid to cover tuition at UC Berkeley. But as she and other students know, the real cost of college is shelter.

In collaboration with CALmatters, Vanessa Rancano of KQED offers the latest installment of the California Dream, telling how Kahn pays $615 a month for a room she shares with two other women near campus. The lack of privacy is difficult. So is living far from her child, as she waits for parent housing.

UC President Janet Napolitano: “We’re building student housing like crazy. We’re going to be adding 19,000 beds by 2020. Those will all be below market rate beds.”

Kahn expects to have graduated by then.

Please email or call with tips, suggestions and insights, dmorain@calmatters.org, 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.