SACRAMENTO—The effort to temporarily halt California’s 51-cent gas tax failed for a third time in a state assembly committee as lawmakers instead proposed changing the bill completely by adding a new tax on fuel suppliers to feed a rebate program for gas consumers.
Assembly Bill 1638 by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) was accepted to be heard on a last-minute basis by the state Transportation Committee on March 28, after being shut down by lawmakers on March 14 and March 24.
Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose) opposed Kiley’s bill while blaming the high gas tax on fossil fuel corporations—such as Chevron and Vallero—which he said pocketed billions in a record profit last year.
“I definitely sympathize and I understand how hard it is right now, and how hard it is at the pump,” he said. It’s not because we are paying for roads. It’s because there are corporations out there who are fracking the hell out of this planet.”
Lee further highlighted the funds from the gas tax that go towards fixing roads while claiming the surplus can not ensure these projects continue to proceed if the gas tax is suspended.
“If we are to find ourselves in [an] economic deficit, the money that goes directly to constituents and roadways and transportation can evaporate,” he said.
Rather than simply voting on AB 1638, Lee decided to strike out all current contents of the bill and fill in multiple amendments, including taxing fuel suppliers more to offset their “windfall profit” and turning that tax revenue into gas rebates for consumers.
At this point, it is still unclear whether Lee’s “vehicle fuel windfall profit tax” would affect the gas prices at the pump for consumers and how the proposed rebate program would look.
While Lee urged for his amendments to be made, he refused to add his name as an author to the bill.
Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) opposed Lee’s amendments, questioning the motion that would raise taxes on residents rather than providing relief.
“A bill to temporarily suspend the state’s tax for six months [and] provide immediate relief to Californians is being hijacked … to raise taxes even more,” Fong said.
Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen (R-Huntington Beach) echoed her disappointment in Lee’s decision to drastically attempt to amend the bill rather than simply vote no.
“Why are we just being silent and prolonging this pain for all these families?” Nguyen forcefully questioned. “Putting more taxes on Californians is the wrong thing to do.”
Kiley disapproved of the amendments, suggesting his colleagues vote on the original bill proposed as gas prices become infeasible for some residents.
“I’ve tried to provide a form of relief, that will be immediate,” Kiley said. “I think it’s unfortunate that it’s being used as a vehicle to just play political games.”
Kiley highlighted the state’s rising gas prices that have nearly hit $6 in some areas, urging lawmakers to take action as most Californians can’t afford an electric vehicle.
“If you’re someone who has to commute a long distance to work, or maybe you have kids that you need to drive to school or other activities, or maybe you live in a rural area where there isn’t easy access to public transport, then that poses even more of a hardship.”
While Kiley received some support from his colleagues, not everyone was on board.
Assemblywoman and Committee Chair Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) admitted to opposing Kiley’s bill without fully reading the fine print.
“I have not had a chance to dive in-depth into this,” Friedman said. She also insisted that she would not put her name as an author on Lee’s amendments though she supported his suggestions.
The original bill to suspend the gas tax failed on an 8–4 vote, with Lee’s amendments proceeding for more discussion later.
Aside from Kiley’s effort, Newsom last week announced an $11 billion proposal to offer a $400 tax rebate for every Californian with a registered vehicle—capped at two vehicles per household. However, the Governor’s proposal will need to be approved by lawmakers before moving forward, with payments unavailable until possibly July.