Group calls Caltrans freeway signs political ads

Posted at 6:08 PM, Jun 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-20 23:29:18-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Government transparency, or a sign with a subtle political agenda?

That's a debate that's heating up over new Caltrans signs popping up along San Diego's freeways near projects funded by Senate Bill 1, the recent 12 cent per gallon gas-tax increase. The increase is now the target of a repeal effort that could be on the November ballot. 

The signs read "your tax dollars at work" and has the S.B. 1 logo in the middle. 

"This is nothing more than a cynical PR stunt with our tax dollars that should be going into roads," said Carl DeMaio, chair of Reform California, which is leading the repeal effort. 

Caltrans says that is a total misread. A spokeswoman said for years the agency, and others, have been putting up similar signs alerting taxpayers to projects, and how they're funded. 

San Diegan Catherine Hill, a member of the League of California cities, is supporting the gas-tax increase, which also raised registration fees $25 to $175, depending on the value.

"It's transparency and accountability," Hill said of the signs. "It's letting taxpayers know that their tax dollars are going to this particular project."

Earlier this year, Caltrans announced that $312 million in money from the gas-tax increase was awarded to the San Diego region.

Seth Kaplowitz, a finance professor at San Diego State University, said he sees both sides of the gas tax debate. 

He said, however, that Caltrans could put any political interpretations to rest by disclosing on each sign exactly how much gas-tax money is being used. 

"As a fact, you could go someplace to see the allocation of this project," Kaplowitz said. "If you can't spot it, then they're not transparent."

The Federal Highway Administration has rules on what can go on signs. The agency didn't immediately return a call seeking information. 

DeMaio said his group has obtained more than 1 million signatures in its effort to put the repeal on the November ballot. 

Each of the Caltrans signs costs $700.