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Gas Tax, Trump, Housing Drive Race for California Governor

SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s race for governor pits Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat and former San Francisco mayor, against Republican businessman John Cox. Here’s a look at where they stand on issues that have shaped the race:

GAS TAX REPEAL (Proposition 6)

Lawmakers and outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown last year raised gas taxes by 12 cents to 41.7 cents per gallon and vehicle registration fees by $25 to $175 per year to pay for road repairs.

Cox is chairman of the group that collected signatures asking voters to repeal it. He has made rolling back the increases — and requiring voter approval for any future hikes — a centerpiece of a campaign focused on reducing taxes and regulations.

Newsom supports the gas tax increase, saying repeal would end critical road construction happening across the state and take away the jobs that accompany them.

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OTHER TAXES

Cox says high taxes are crippling California and contributing to a high cost of living that drives people to more affordable states. He’d like to reduce the income tax and overall state spending, but acknowledged that’s unlikely to happen with Democrats controlling the Legislature.

Newsom says he’ll begin a long-term process to reform the state’s notoriously volatile tax code, which leads the state budget to mirror the stock market’s boom and bust cycles. California’s income tax rate is too high and not competitive with other states in the West, he says.

“The vast majority of our economy is not taxed, and as a consequence we are very indulgent in taxing the remaining part of our economy,” Newsom told The Associated Press.

Newsom declined to say whether he’d like to add a sales tax on services or had other ideas in mind, saying “I want to put everything on the table.”

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CLIMATE CHANGE

Under Brown and his predecessor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, California has pursued aggressive efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Newsom supports those policies, including a goal of generating 100 percent of energy from clean sources, and pledges to continue them.

“California has a responsibility, has an important international role to play,” he said in the lone debate with Cox.

In a contrast with Brown, Newsom opposes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial method of extracting oil and gas.

Cox has expressed doubt about the extent to which humans contribute to climate change but doesn’t go any deeper, saying he’s not a scientist. And he questions the expense attached to the aggressive policies.

“Are we getting enough of an impact on the world’s atmosphere to justify the cost to the people of this state?” Cox asked at the same debate.

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IMMIGRATION

Newsom advocates policies that help immigrants living illegally in California, including expanded public benefits and legal defenses against deportation. He also wants comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level and opposes building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Immigration has advanced the economy of this state in profound and pronounced ways,” Newsom said.

Cox frequently blasts California’s “sanctuary state” law that restricts cooperation between law enforcement and federal immigration authorities — a policy Newsom supports. He supports building the border wall and calls for more aggressive immigration enforcement.

“I don’t want to live next to MS-13 and I don’t think any of us do,” Cox said earlier this year, referring to a violent gang formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by El Salvadoran immigrants.

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DONALD TRUMP

After trying to distance himself from Trump early in the race, Cox embraced the president and was rewarded with a series of laudatory tweets that helped him consolidate support among Republicans and finish second in the June primary to secure a ballot slot in the general election.

Trump never came to California to campaign for Cox, who has walked a tightrope during his race against Newsom — staying close enough to the president to satisfy Republicans who back Trump but not so close to alienate independents he needs to attract to win. He notes he and Trump are successful businessmen looking to bring their talents to politics and praised Trump for the strong economy, but said “I’m running my own campaign here.”

Newsom, meanwhile, abhors Trump and pledges to continue California’s efforts to stymie the president’s agenda. Brown has helped lead California’s strong opposition to Trump policies, challenging environmental, immigration and other policies in court and finding ways to thwart them under state law.

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HEALTH CARE

Newsom backed a California Nurses Association proposal this session to eliminate insurance companies and give everyone state-funded health coverage. It was blocked in the Assembly but it’s become a rallying cry and litmus test for many voters on the left.

Newsom said he’s studying international models and promises to aggressively pursue something that would work in California to achieve “universal health care, regardless of pre-existing condition, ability to pay and immigration status.”

Cox is adamantly opposed to a government-run health care system, which he says would lead to long wait times, massive tax increases and a system controlled by health care lobbyists.

He’s been less specific about what he’d change with California’s health care system but makes clear he opposes more government intervention and providing coverage to immigrants living in the country illegally.

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HOUSING

Newsom has pledged to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025. That’s the number experts say is needed to catch up with current needs and keep pace with demand. Critics say it’s unrealistic in a state that has never built so many homes so fast. He also calls for building more subsidized housing.

Cox notes that it’s significantly cheaper to build homes in Indiana, where he owns more than a dozen apartment complexes, than in California. He pledges to get rid of strict regulations that he says drive up the cost of construction and to reform the California Environmental Quality Act, which critics say is abused by development opponents to block new construction or delay it through years of lawsuits. CEQA, as it’s known, requires local governments to identify and mitigate environmental harms from construction projects.

Both candidates oppose Proposition 10, a ballot measure that would pave the way for expanded rent control. Opponents say it would lower real estate values, further decreasing the state’s housing supply by discouraging construction.

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BULLET TRAIN

Cox opposes the state’s largest infrastructure project — a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. He’s blasted the project for significant cost overruns and setbacks and pledged to end “the crazy train” championed by Brown.

“We’ve wasted billions on this job,” Cox said. “It’s gone the minute I am governor.”

Newsom’s position on the train has shifted. He joined with then-Gov. Schwarzenegger to campaign for voter-approved bonds to help finance the project in 2008. Years later, with costs skyrocketing, he questioned whether it was the best use of the money.

Now, he says he supports the project but is concerned there’s no plan in place to raise much of the estimated $77 billion cost.

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WATER

Cox says California needs more reservoirs and other storage facilities, which he says are vital for California’s massive agriculture industry and will be a priority if he’s elected.

He has blasted a plan by state water officials to increase flows on the lower San Joaquin River to save salmon and other fish but that would deliver less to farmers in the Central Valley.

Newsom says he’d look to expand the adoption of technologies that reduce water use, such as drip irrigation and remote sensors to ensure fields and yards don’t use more water than they need. He’s also talked up water recycling and replenishing groundwater.

Cox opposes a plan, strongly backed by Brown, to build two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta to remake the system of delivering water from Northern to Southern California. Newsom says he’d prefer to see the $17 billion project scaled back.