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New opposition arises to bill that would raise the gas tax in California

Heavy storms caused parts of the shoulder and one lane of westbound Highway 50 to give way in February near Pollock Pines. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)
Heavy storms caused parts of the shoulder and one lane of westbound Highway 50 to give way in February near Pollock Pines. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) clashed Monday with Gov. Jerry Brown over how a proposal to raise gas taxes for road repairs may add to increases in fuel prices expected from the state's cap-and-trade program.

Fong told Brown during a legislative hearing that he opposes a bill by the governor and legislative leaders that would raise the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon. He warned that drivers could already face higher prices at the pump from the state’s cap-and-trade program, which requires polluters such as oil refineries to buy permits to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Fong pointed to a report he requested from legislative analysts, who said the price per gallon could increase between 24 cents and 73 cents per gallon by 2031, depending on the cost of cap-and-trade permits.

“California continues to become more unaffordable because of decisions made in Sacramento, and hardworking Californians are bearing the burden,” Fong said.

Brown noted that Republicans will vote against extension of the cap-and-trade program anyway.

“You guys are talking about both sides of your mouth,” he said to the assemblyman during a hearing by the Assembly Transportation Committee. 

Wendy James, director of the California Business Alliance for a Clean Economy, said it was “ridiculous to try to assess any specific cost increase to a particular policy.”

“Blaming environmental policies for gas price spikes has been the industry’s go-to excuses for decades while they sit back and count their cash,” James said. “The truth is, almost every gas price spike is related to some problem within the oil industry.”

Meanwhile, the activist group Consumer Watchdog on Monday said it opposes the legislation as long as it takes money from motorists and said the state instead should pass a bill that would take a portion of windfall profits from the oil industry to pay for road and bridge repairs.

“In recent years, Californians have been paying an unjustifiable amount at the pump, and oil companies should be giving some of that back to fix the roads themselves,” consumer advocate Liza Tucker wrote in a letter to California lawmakers. “Consumer Watchdog calls upon you to oppose the gas tax Governor Brown has proposed until it requires oil refiners to pay some of the billions of dollars in windfall profits they have made recently at the pump.”

Later Monday, State Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte criticized the Democrats who he said have diverted money from transportation projects for years.

“Now, our roads and dams are at a crisis point and the Democrats want to loot money from the pockets of the middle class and working poor through a gas tax and vehicle registration fee hike totaling more than $5 billion per year,” Brulte said in a statement. “It seems that the Democrats are determined to drive California’s middle class into poverty."

Updated at 4:30 pm to include comments from Jim Brulte.

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