Amid record-high gas prices, California's Democratic legislative leaders said Wednesday they are reluctant to adopt Gov. Gavin Newsom's proposal to halt a gasoline tax increase scheduled to take effect in July because the resulting $500 million goes to vital programs.
“I certainly have concerns” and others among Newsom's fellow Democrats in the Assembly do as well, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said. “That's something that could potentially jeopardize a tremendous amount of jobs in this state, it could inhibit some economic growth.”
The hesitancy by Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins comes with an average $4.72 per gallon gas price in California, the highest in the nation and up $1.30 from a year ago. The national average is $3.51 a gallon, according to AAA.
Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk said “Sacramento Democrats are tone deaf if they think people don’t need a break at the pump.”
California taxes gasoline at 51.1 cents per gallon, second only to Pennsylvania, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. The planned tax increase is tied to inflation, which is surging. Last summer the tax increased from 50.5 cents per gallon.
Newsom, a Democrat, in his January budget proposed stopping the increase, at least for this year. That move would cost the state about $523 million in lost revenue that would otherwise go for things like roads and bridges. Newsom said that money can come instead from the state's $45.7 billion surplus.
“We passed the gas tax for a very specific reason,” Rendon said. "We need to make sure that our transit operations are running and running smoothly. We want to make sure that our roads are safe and all those types of things. We want to make sure that our construction workers, folks in the building trades, are working on those projects.
"If we're going to halt the gas tax, we want to make sure that we have a sense of what that means to our state and to our economy,” he added.
Atkins said the tax was approved with a difficult vote by lawmakers in 2017 and later ratified by voters. “It's been doing the job,” she said.
Both leaders' comments were in response to questions during an online forum by the Sacramento Press Club in which they also discussed other issues before the Legislature.
Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher criticized the Democratic leaders.
“Gas prices hit a new record today and it’s getting harder and harder for Californians to drive to work and take their kids to school," he said in a statement.
“Saying that the state won’t ease that burden while we’re sitting on a $40 billion surplus is astounding,” Gallagher added. "What’s a better use for that money? High-speed rail? The dog parks and sculpture gardens they’ve stuck in the budget over the years?”