Support for a state oil extraction tax is strong and includes large percentages of Democrats, independents and even Republicans, says Tom Steyer, a billionaire former hedge fund investor turned environmentalist and political activist.
Steyer, a San Francisco Democrat, on Wednesday cited a new poll that found that nearly two-thirds of Californians support a tax at the wellhead on every barrel of crude oil pumped from the ground. California, he said, is the only one of 22 major oil-producing states that doesn't collect a so-called severance tax.
The poll was commissioned by NextGen Climate, a nonprofit organization founded by Steyer.
The poll results are "misleading, flawed and disingenuous," said Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for Californians Against Higher Oil Taxes, a coalition that includes the Western States Petroleum Assn. and other business groups. The poll's questions, she said, don't tell respondents that oil companies in California already are taxed on the value of their oil in the ground and also pay other state and local property and income taxes.
The telephone survey of 800 likely voters in the 2016 election was conducted between April 24 and 28 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, said pollster Joel Benenson.
The survey showed that 64% of those queried said they supported the tax, while 27% opposed it. Enthusiasm was higher among Democrats at 71%, with 67% backing from independents and 50% from Republicans.
"Californians definitely believe that oil companies should be paying a fair share of taxes," said Benenson.
Steyer is backing a bill in the Legislature that would tax oil when it's pumped. The measure, SB 1017 by Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), was approved by the Senate Goverance and Finance Committee on Wednesday. Steyer said he would push to put an initiative on the November 2016 ballot if Evans' bill fails to become law.
In a second question, Steyer's poll asked likely voters if they wanted to vote to allow the use of hydraulic fracturing in their local counties. The controversial drilling technique involves pumping a mixture of water, sand, chemicals and sometimes acid deep underground to recover oil and natural gas trapped in shale formations.
Seventy-eight percent backed imposing local control while 19% opposed it.