aspen_banner.jpg
Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

California Democrats can't agree on how to use the budget surplus to offset gas costs

EMILY FENG, HOST:

A handful of red and blue states have paused their gas taxes to offset the current high cost of fuel. In California, the average gallon of gas costs more than $6. But Democrats can't agree on how to deploy part of the state's $97 billion budget surplus to help Californians out. From CapRadio in Sacramento, Nicole Nixon reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

NICOLE NIXON, BYLINE: Aurora Chang is filling up her gray sedan at a Safeway gas pump, where the price is 5.69 a gallon. It's a good deal - about $0.20 lower than the regional average. Chang has to fill up twice a week since she's on the road a lot, getting her two grandkids and two nephews to school every day.

AURORA CHANG: In the morning, in the afternoon and then to their activities - football, basketball. So yeah, it's a lot of driving for me.

NIXON: She stops, leans over and flicks the pump off before her tank is full.

CHANG: Usually I like to fill it up, but with that price, now it's probably going to take me $80 - more than $80 to fill it up.

NIXON: And with inflation at a 40-year high, things have been tight.

CHANG: You have to figure out what you're going to do. Rent and the gas - so you can't buy much for your food.

NIXON: Some state lawmakers have pushed to suspend California's gas tax, which at $0.51 per gallon is the highest in the nation. But Democratic leaders want to send out tax rebate checks to help families struggling with high gas prices and inflation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAVIN NEWSOM: It's clear we have to go farther.

NIXON: Governor Gavin Newsom first floated the idea in March, when fuel prices surged.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEWSOM: That's why, working with legislative leadership, I'll be submitting a proposal to put money back in the pockets of Californians to address rising gas prices.

(APPLAUSE)

NIXON: Two months later, Democrats are at a standstill over the details. The governor wants to tie the rebates to car ownership, meaning anyone with an active DMV registration would get $400 or 800 for two vehicles. He's also proposing free public transit for three months.

But top lawmakers point out his plan could mean a family that can't afford a car wouldn't get any cash. Instead, they want to target tax relief to lower- and middle-income families and distribute it through the state's tax board. Newsom says that would take months.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEWSOM: My interest is to get the money out as quickly as possible. People are feeling deep stress, deep anxiety. You see that reflected in recent gas prices now beginning to go back up.

NIXON: One thing that's clear is that top Democrats in California do not want to pause the gas tax. They argue nothing would stop oil companies from keeping prices high and pocketing the difference. But Republicans and a handful of moderate Democrats continue to call for a gas tax holiday.

KEVIN KILEY: I just don't know why this is so hard.

NIXON: Kevin Kiley is a GOP state lawmaker who's been pushing to suspend California's gas tax since January.

KILEY: We have the tool at our disposal. We can pass it now. It could be signed in a few days, and starting next week, people could see the impact.

NIXON: Kiley, who's running for Congress in Northern California, supports any form of tax relief. But he says while Democrats have been going back and forth, Californians have continued to pay the highest gas prices in the country.

KILEY: Our caucus wants to provide relief, but it's political choices by our colleagues on the other side of the aisle in this governor that has so far stopped that from happening.

NIXON: In fact, California's gas tax is scheduled to increase by a few cents, as it does every year, on July 1.

For NPR News, I'm Nicole Nixon in Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAWN LEE SONG, "PLAYBOY BUNNY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.