The cost of gas at an ARCO gas station in Oakland on May 25, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – Assembly Republicans, and more than a few Democrats, tried once again to temporarily scrap the state’s gas tax amid record-high prices at the pump

It failed. Predictably.

The GOP has been relentlessly pushing a gas tax “holiday” all spring

Alas, it’s a nonstarter with both Gov. Newsom and the Legislature’s Democratic leaders, who argue that there’s no guarantee the tax cut would be passed along to consumers. Instead, they prefer sending money directly to Californians.

Do they have a point? Probably not, said UC Davis energy economist Erich Muehlegger: When gas taxes are cut, “you tend to see most of those benefits — not necessarily all of those benefits, but most — going back to consumers in the form of lower retail prices.”

Undiscouraged by the GOP’s earlier failure, a bipartisan group of self-proclaimed “problem solvers” in the Legislature got on board with the idea last month. They also added a provision that would make gas retailers who don’t cut their prices sufficiently after a tax cut legally liable. 

Though Democratic leaders prefer a direct payment approach, they’re divided over exactly who ought to get the money and how much. In his budget proposal earlier this month, Newsom stuck with his plan to cut checks to registered drivers. Senate Pro Tem Atkins and Assembly Speaker Rendon prefer giving smaller amounts to all Californian families — drivers or not — who make under a certain income. 

But the failed vote Wednesday wasn’t all for nothing. Legislators in competitive elections later this year have a fresh talking point:

  • Republican Assemblymember Suzette Valladares, one of the Legislature’s most vulnerable incumbents: “It’s not partisan, and California can afford it.”

Others who voted for the futile measure include Democratic Assemblymember Adam Gray, who is running for Congress in Merced, and Sen. Melissa Hurtado, who is hoping to keep her seat in Bakersfield.

A handful of progressive Assemblymembers, including Reggie Jones-Sawyer from Los Angeles, Matt Haney from San Francisco, and Cristina Garcia from Downey who is now running for Congress, also initially voted for the proposal. Hours later, they, along with five other Democrats, changed their votes to “No.”

After session, 30 Assembly members — including 10 Democrats and all the Republicans — wrote Rendon a letter urging him to put the bill up for a floor vote before the Friday deadline.