Joel Pollak: California Democrats’ $400 Gas Rebate Can’t Undo Gas Tax Damage

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    As The New York Times reported recently, California's high fuel costs are due in part to both taxes and regulatory programs that aim at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. According to a Western States Petroleum Association calculation, the combined cost of these initiatives added $1.27 to the price of a gallon of gasoline last month.

    The state's gasoline tax accounts for 40 percent of this cost. California taxes gasoline at 51.1 cents per gallon. This is the second-highest national fuel cost after Pennsylvania , according to the Federation of Tax Administrators (FTA).

    To keep pace with inflation, a planned increase in that tax will take effect in July. Governor Gavin Newsom proposed stopping the spike, but Democratic leaders have been reluctant to agree.

    California's “green gas tax” has had a negligible impact on global emissions. California's already high gas taxes are increasing due to a law Democrats passed in 2017 to fund transportation repairs that were neglected in the regular budget. It also increased licensing fees. These taxes and fees are most burdensome for working-class Californians, who must commute or drive to work and can't afford to buy expensive electric cars.

    It was so unpopular that Republicans recalled Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), a freshman State Senator, for having voted for the law. Republicans then put a referendum on the 2018 ballot to repeal the gas-tax increase. Then California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, now the Secretary of Health and Human Services, gave the referendum a misleading title. He called it a measure that “Eliminates Certain Road Repair and Transportation Funding” and not the “Gas Tax Repeal Initiative.” It was rejected.

    A typical California family of four would pay about $800 annually for the current gas tax. This amount was increased by the gas-tax hike, which also added additional expenses for vehicle-license fees. The $400 rebate wouldn't even cover half of the gas tax, and that is before taking into account the higher pump price. The state is making it harder to drive regular gas-powered cars, the sales of which Newsom hopes to eliminate in the state by 2035.

    The rebate is a typical California Democratic proposal to bribe taxpayers with their own money without actually addressing the root problem. Governor Newsom may have found this idea attractive because he was in a difficult recall election. He did not propose any solutions to the state's high but still rising cost of living.

    These gimmicks are what Newsom and the Democrats excel at, but they ignore real solutions. Newsom has promised to eliminate the local oil-and-gas industry by 2045, instead of allowing it to be freed up. He did not mention California's current drought in his entire “State of the State” address. Nor did he offer any additional water infrastructure to alleviate future droughts.

    A $400 rebate, as Barack Obama might have said, is one way to pass through a tough election, but it does not help Californians.

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