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Radio host Carl DeMaio, the architect behind the gas tax repeal, is raising as many flags about transportation spending as he can in hopes that a few fly. He’s been particularly vocal about gas tax money he claims is being invested in things other than road repairs.
The latest claim: Money for roads is being spent on homelessness.
“Here in San Diego County, Caltrans did admit just two weeks ago that one third of the road maintenance funds that it allocates to San Diego County actually get diverted to cleaning up and taking care of issues relating to the homeless,” DeMaio said in a recent debate on KUSI.
In a press release earlier this week, DeMaio and the campaign to repeal the gas tax decried an “epic waste” of those funds, including homelessness spending. “A San Diego region Caltrans official confirmed that a large chunk of Caltrans’ Road Maintenance budget in San Diego County is being diverted for cleaning up homeless camps,” it said.
But what DeMaio is implying isn’t true, Caltrans says.
“Senate Bill 1 funds are dedicated to transportation improvements and are not used for routine maintenance, such as litter removal or the cleanup of illegal encampments,” Caltrans District 11 spokesman Ed Joyce wrote in an email to VOSD.
Since SB 1 was approved, the state has promised to dole out more than $1 billion in those funds for San Diego-area projects.
Joyce provided budget numbers showing the Caltrans district last year spent about $7.5 million — or 19 percent of district maintenance spending — from the State Highway Account on litter and debris removal, including homeless camp clean-ups. That fund is backed by a combination of state and federal taxes, not gas tax money, Joyce said.
Yes on 6 spokesman Dave McColloch defended DeMaio’s characterization and referenced a September San Diego Reader story that described local maintenance funds being spent on homeless camp clean-ups. (Caltrans says it has since produced updated spending figures.)
McCulloch’s statement appeared to concede that CalTrans is not using gas tax money to clean up homeless encampments. The larger point is that Caltrans isn’t being a responsible steward of taxpayer money, he said.
“Whether or not SB 1 money is used, they are spending money on maintenance things unrelated to roads,” McCulloch said.
On top of the claims about gas tax money being used to fund homelessness efforts, backers of the repeal have long expressed disgust that some of the funds go toward public transportation improvements.
KPBS’s Andrew Bowen captured some of the disdain expressed at a press conference this week by politicians who are Yes on 6 supporters.
“By the time we get to 2020, it will probably be $6 a gallon, and we will be forced to walk, ride our bikes or maybe catch that once-in-a-while bus that comes our way,” said state Sen. Pat Bates, the Senate Republican leader who represents parts of southern Orange County and northern San Diego County.
Diane Harkey, who’s running for Congress, was even more concerned about a future filled with bikes and transit: “It’s forcing you to take bikes, get on trains, hose off at the depot and try to get to work. That does not work. That does not work with my hair and heels. I cannot do that and I will not do that.”
Meanwhile, an Associated Press investigation lays out the California State Transportation Agency’s close relationship with a PR agency backing the gas tax. Emails obtained by the AP show the agency coordinating with the firm.
“Three ethics experts interviewed by the AP said the emails raise concerns that the agency’s relationship with the firm was too close, but none saw a clear violation of campaign laws, which prohibit the use of public resources for political campaigns.”
Also of note in the piece is an anecdote about the same PR agency writing an op-ed aimed at congressional Republicans, reminding them of the projects funded by the gas tax in their district.
“The piece ultimately was written by the mayor of Encinitas, a suburb north of San Diego, and ran the following month in the San Diego Union-Tribune,” the AP notes.