Few cultural touchstones of California have had more staying power over the years than the state’s affinity for cars and its aversion to taxes.
Both leverage a long-held selling point about the good life in the Golden State, where the open road ahead is always better if you spend a little money on a few stops along the way.
Conflicts between the two desires can even alter the political destiny of the state’s elected leaders. It’s happened before and could happen again given the current scramble for ideas on how to allocate state taxpayer money to cover drivers’ fuel bills.
On Thursday, a group of Legislative Democrats jumped ahead of Sacramento negotiations over a cash-back plan to offset the impact of gas prices, which have pushed the statewide average to nearly $5.79 a gallon. That’s almost a dollar more than the average for the same time in February, according to the AAA, and almost $2 more than average spring 2020 California gas prices.
“We know our constituents are suffering right now,” said Rep. Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine), chair of the group pushing for a $400 rebate for every California taxpayer, during a news conference at the Capitol. “We are here to offer help. We are here to deliver solutions.”
The group’s solution would no doubt fuel its political campaigns as well. Several of the 21 lawmakers who signed the $400 rebate proposal are running this year in districts that have been redrawn in ways that are likely to make the upcoming election season less certain or, in some cases, a toss up. Two of this group are seeking a vacant seat in Congress. All would certainly benefit from being seen on the side of drivers and middle- and low-income Californians.
“People are fed up right now,” said Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), who is running for Sacramento County sheriff.
The effort also sidesteps — at least temporarily — the question of whether California’s state-imposed fuel taxes are too high. Republicans looking for relevance in a state where they are outnumbered and lack a clear political brand have hit Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democrats hard for refusing even a short-term suspension of the nearly 52 Consider cents apiece -gallons state excise duty on gas.
“The Capitol Democrats, who have refused to suspend the gas tax and subtract 50 cents a gallon, are having a hard time explaining their vote,” Assembly GOP Chairman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) said. posted Thursday on twitter. “People need relief, they don’t buy your excuses.”
But Newsom proposed a gas tax break in its January budget — a smaller attempt to temporarily scrap a planned summer hike in the state tax. Democratic lawmakers largely opposed his proposal, pushing for broader relief efforts. But they could face some complicated policy maneuvers as a group of their own humble colleagues push for a rebate touted as a rebate equivalent to one state tax-free tank of gas every week for a year.
None of this will come cheap. Last month, the Independent Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that a one cent reduction in California’s gas excise tax would reduce transportation by $175 million. The push for a $400 rebate for all taxpayers — including those without a car — could cost $9 billion, an expense that would likely be paid for out of the state’s projected tax surplus.
The question is whether Californians think they need — or deserve — the money more than their government does.
In 2003, a riot over taxes and cars toppled the then-government’s government. Gray Davis. What weaknesses the Democratic incumbent had prior to his decision to triple the annual car license fee was nothing compared to the so-called “car tax” fury fomented by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supported Davis in the historic recall election that year defeated.
“This state is going back to running on all eight cylinders instead of just one as it is now,” Schwarzenegger said, yelling into the microphone during one of the final campaign rallies of the year in Sacramento.
Rob Stutzman, a senior adviser to Schwarzenegger, said voters saw the fee hike as nothing more than a way to overwrite government debt.
“Taxing Californians’ vehicles is like taxing an appendage,” he said.
This is perhaps different from the idea of improving roads. More recent Democratic leaders, even as they have been criticized for their views on the size and reach of government, have found ways to detoxify the once-dangerous mix of motoring and taxation. In 2018, then Governor. Jerry Brown led a successful campaign to protect a large increase in the state gas tax passed by the Legislature the previous year to spur repairs on the state’s roads and bridges.
Brown, who was fired at the time, boasted on election night that California voters who refused to repeal the 2017 gas tax hike “voted to tax themselves to pay for what they need.” – a political message conveyed by the ubiquitous “SB 1 : Rebuilding California” signs at highway construction sites across the state.
But with gas prices now beating many motorists as well over fair, policy could change. In fact, Democrats seem to have addressed the issue of fairness recently when they rejected the GOP’s calls for a gas tax holiday.
Their argument: The oil industry will not lower prices if taxes are taken off the table.
“We want to make sure we’re putting money in the pockets of working families, not in the hands of oil companies, and not in the hands of foreign dictators,” Rep. Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino), a supporter of rebates, said at Thursday’s toss event Include a nod to Russian President Vladimir Putin for good measure.
A political weapon that Democrats could use in their 2022 campaigns — particularly in Atty State. Gen. Rob Bonta – are recurring allegations that gas prices are rigged. Bonta, who faces perhaps the toughest campaign of any statewide Democrat this year, is overseeing a 2019 investigation into California’s fuel price setting launched by his predecessor Xavier Becerra. Neither Bonta nor Newsom have drawn attention to the long-forgotten investigation in recent weeks, though others insist there has long been a “mystery surcharge” in the price of a gallon of gasoline.
But not all of this year’s incumbents are showing such restraint. US Senator Alex Padilla, who is running for his first full term, said Thursday that he would support legislation introducing a new federal tax on big oil companies, which would in turn result in a quarterly taxpayer rebate.
Expect additional ideas in the coming days and weeks, especially as the road ahead includes the state’s nationwide elementary school on June 7th.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-18/news-analysis-in-california-the-cost-of-driving-has-always-been-a-political-hot-potato Fares are a political hot topic in California