EXCLUSIVE: With California gas prices hovering near the highest level in decades, a coalition of Republican lawmakers are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide some relief to consumers at the pump.
In a Monday letter addressed to Newsom, a group of GOP lawmakers – led by Reps. David Valadao and Jay Obernolte – reiterated a plea from March for the governor to temporarily suspend the state's 51-cent-per-gallon gas tax in order to help blunt the financial pain of surging prices at the pump.
The tax is used to fund roads and other infrastructure projects; the state's Legislative Analyst's Office projected the tax will generate about $8.8 billion in revenue during the 2021-22 fiscal year.
"You did not respond to our March letter, and since then the situation has grown increasingly desperate for working families in California," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Today Californians face both the highest gasoline premiums in the country and double-digit inflation at the grocery store. Californians need tax relief now, a fact even President Biden has acknowledged."
Prices for a regular gallon of gas hit $4.89 on Monday, according to AAA, up from the average of $3.07 recorded just one year ago. However, California – as is usually the case – has seen the steepest prices in the country, with a gallon of gas reaching $6.31 on average. In some parts of the state, prices are even higher: Mono County has recorded an average price of $7.29 per gallon.
One Wall Street analyst estimated that higher fuel prices could cost the average American household an extra $5,000 per year.
"We strongly urge you to heed President Biden’s request and work with the legislature to suspend our state’s gasoline tax," the Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said.
The renewed push to suspend California's gas tax comes as the White House calls for a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax. The federal gas tax holiday – which would require action by Congress – would temporarily eliminate the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. It is intended to help consumers cope with higher prices at the pump amid a record surge in the cost of fuel.
Democrats and Republicans have largely been lukewarm about supporting a gas tax pause at the federal level.
Newsom, a Democrat, had previously expressed support for helping California motorists experiencing pain at the pump by waiting to implement a 5.6% tax hike scheduled to take effect on July 1. However, lawmakers failed to stop the gas tax increase from taking place because they needed to pass legislation in April in order to do so. As of July 1, the tax will rise to 53.9 cents per gallon.
The sky-high gas prices have roots in the faster-than-expected economic recovery from the pandemic, which has triggered the hottest inflation in decades amid strong consumer demand, an influx of government stimulus and disruptions in the global supply chain. The Russian war in Ukraine has also exacerbated inflation as it impedes the world's access to energy supplies.