FRESNO, Calif. -    It's a source of pain that medicine can't treat.  It's called Pain at the Pump.  Billy Melton knows it all too well.  "I put a lot of miles on and the tax is hurting me," Melton says.
  So does Estrella Asuncion who is on a fixed income and strict budget.  "II don't travel a lot.  I don't use my car.  I have to save gas," Asuncion says.
   Californians have long paid among the highest gas taxes in the country.  Not the highest believe it or not, but close.  Our current rate 58.3 cents per gallon includes an 18 cent federal tax and puts California at number two in the nation.  Before November's hike, we were seventh behind Connecticut, New York and Hawaii.  But when state lawmakers passed the Transportation Bill in April and the Governor signed it, California snagged the spot just behind national gas tax leader Pennsylvania.
   California Governor Jerry Brown said the tax was needed to fund road repairs and maintenance long overdue.  "This is a fee-a fee for the privilege of driving on our roads that the people paid for and we've got to keep paying for them otherwise they're not going to work for us," Brown said.
   Joe Henchman is Executive Vice President of the Tax Foundation, a think tank based in Washington that analyzes federal, state and local issues.  He says it's no surprise Californians pay a high gas tax because we have so many roads-- 394,000 miles of them.  "In addition to that, you've got big metropolitan areas with a lot of people and that means a lot of costs when you add it up," Henchman says.
   Comparisons by the Tax Foundation show the average Californian spends 11% of their income on state and local taxes.  That includes our sales tax.  The state rate of 7 1/4 cents on the dollar is the highest in the nation.  "No one moves to california because of the tax system.  It's something you just kind of have to live with and deal with while you're there," says Henchman.
   Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox is backing an initiative to repeal the gas tax.  Nearly 500,000 signatures have been collected so far.  585,000 are needed by May 21st to put it on November's ballot.  "This is an addition tax for people who are already paying through the nose for housing, water, electricity which have all been driven up," Cox says.
   A repeal could be down the road.  In the meantime, Californians have to do their best to endure the pain at the pump.

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