Clinton Pushes Oil Tax Measure at UCLA Rally

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Times Staff Writer

Accusing oil companies of lying about the cost of Proposition 87, former President Clinton on Friday called “bogus” their contention that approving a tax on oil revenues would trigger higher gas prices for California motorists.

During a rally at UCLA, the former president said the state ballot measure would help California move toward less expensive, cleaner forms of energy by funding research into alternative fuels.

Gas prices are lower in other states that already have oil taxes like the one proposed by Proposition 87, Clinton added.


“California is being given an opportunity and an obligation to do something remarkable -- to save the planet, improve our national security, create the next generation of good jobs for the American people,” Clinton said.

The measure on the Nov. 7 ballot would impose up to $485 million a year in taxes on companies that extract oil from California land, with the money going to finance research and development of alternative energy. Over its life, the measure would raise $4 billion for grants and loans to projects developing alternative fuels and more energy-efficient vehicles.

With opponents, led by oil companies, pumping more than $52 million into the campaign to defeat the state ballot measure, supporters brought Clinton into the state just days after launching a television ad campaign in which his former vice president, Al Gore, said the measure would reduce the state’s dependence on foreign oil and clean the air.

Clinton, still popular in a state that he twice won in presidential elections, will be featured in a new round of ads that were filmed during Friday’s rally in front of a cheering crowd of 5,000, many of them students.

Opponents of Proposition 87 noted Friday that support for the measure is sagging, and predicted that the involvement of Clinton and Gore would not be enough to save a proposal that they say would create an unaccountable bureaucracy.

“The proponents can bring in big names from outside California who will leave the state before the election,” said Al Lundeen, communications director for No on Proposition 87. “It’s those of us who live here who will have to live with the negative impacts of Proposition 87.”


A Field Poll on Oct. 4 found voters split on the measure, with 44% supporting and 41% opposing. It led in an earlier poll, 52% to 31%.

The involvement of two national political figures should provide a “modest boost” to the Proposition 87 campaign, but it is rare that the involvement of outsiders, including former presidents, makes a big difference in state initiative races, said John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

“This is an effort to pump up the Democratic base of voters. It’s a very smart move, because these are the folks the base will respond to,” Pitney said.

Most of the $45.7 million raised so far by the measure’s supporters has come from venture capitalists and Hollywood figures, including real estate heir and environmentalist Stephen L. Bing, whom Clinton acknowledged Friday as a friend.

Clinton arrived at the rally in a hybrid Mercury Mariner and, before appearing on the outdoor stage, met privately with a group of children who suffer from asthma made worse by air pollution.

“They are paying the price for our addiction to oil,” Clinton said later during the rally.

The former president directly addressed opponents’ contention in radio and television ads that already high gas prices would get worse if an oil tax was imposed.


If oil companies “really thought you were going to pay for this, would they be spending all that money trying to convince you to vote against it?” Clinton asked.

He said that other states, including his native Arkansas, charge an oil extraction tax and that gasoline is less expensive in many of them.

“It never makes any difference in the price,” Clinton said, adding that the price is set in the markets.

Opponents said the comparison with other states is not fair because California already has other taxes that are higher, so a new tax would make California an even more expensive place to pump oil.

Economists cited by the opposition have concluded that the proposed tax would result in oil companies bringing in more oil from out of California.

“If you are reliant on sources outside the state, it ends up costing more in the long run,” Lundeen said.