Not suspending the gas tax, a failure of lawmakers

Gasoline prices are finally coming down. But not by much. Even with recent declines, a gallon of regular unleaded is still hovering around the $6 mark, a 50% increase from the same time last year.

There are several factors at play – high inflation caused by too much money being printed during COVID, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supply chain issues exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic, an oil industry and gas company unwilling to sacrifice profits to boost supply — but only one our state legislators have direct control over: the gas tax.

Despite a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events that harms those who can least afford it, our elected officials have refused a request from the governor and millions of Californians to approve a gasoline tax exemption that would have allowed drivers save more than 50 cents per gallon at the pump. They even refused to stop the built-in annual tax hike that hit July 1, adding another 3 cents a gallon.

Instead, they formed a committee to investigate why gas prices are so high and appointed a local representative, Assemblyman Jacqui Irwin, to lead it.

How does this help the millions of California residents who have to choose between feeding their families and getting to work, and who are also ashamed of not being able to afford an electric vehicle or living closer to where they live? work ?

Instead of approving a gas tax exemption, lawmakers felt it would be better to use part of the state’s $95 billion budget surplus to mail checks $350 “inflation relief” to nearly all taxpayers in the state.

Checks won’t be delivered until October, right around election time (how convenient). For some, the check is just a few free tanks of gas.

Seniors, people with disabilities and those who earn too little to file a tax return won’t even get a check, but neither will high-income residents. On the other hand, taxpayers who do not even drive, and people who only drive electric, will receive a check.

Proponents say the rebate is better than America’s highest gas tax suspension because it will lift more Californians during this difficult time, not just those who drive. Plus, they say, a suspension of the tax would mean less funding for important transportation projects for which the money is earmarked.

Finally, there is the argument that oil companies would take advantage of a gas tax exemption by simply raising prices, which is almost impossible to prove.

Of course, who doesn’t like waking up with a few hundred extra dollars in their bank account? But as we’ve seen with COVID stimulus checks, free and easy money comes at a cost, the cost being inflation.

Ordinary citizens have taken a huge financial hit over the past six months, but our state lawmakers are insisting on keeping the record gas tax in place. When the November election rolls around, support for those lawmakers could run on empty.