The Gas Tax is Going Up—Treat or Trick?

Joel Fox

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily


How can anyone call a tax increase a “treat?” One would think increasing taxes on an essential product like gasoline is definitely a trick to fit today’s holiday theme.

Of course, whether trick or treat depends on where one stands on the issue. If you are in infrastructure construction; if you believe improvements made to roads will eliminate the need to maneuver around potholes; if you hope that the gas tax will lead to improving your commute, then you might chalk the gas increase up for a kind of “treat”—eventually.

Critics of the gas tax increase certainly believe it’s a trick on commuters who must go long ways to reach their jobs and pay so much more, especially those with lower incomes. Opponents of the bill that raised the gas tax argue that there is hardly any money to reduce the choking congestion in metropolitan areas of the state. They argue that with the billions increased in the state budget recently, roads were ignored. They say that this trick will burn drivers to a point that they will want to rescind it.

But the full effect of the gas tax won’t be felt right away.

The legislature and the governor were clever to begin the tax collection half-a-year after the bill became law.

As I wrote last May soon after Governor Jerry Brown signed SB1, the tax increase bill, officials chose November 1—tomorrow—for good reason. The 12-cent a gallon tax will not hit all at once. The explanation is multi-faceted. California’s requirement for specially blended gasoline to reduce pollution changes for the wintertime around November 1. The winter blend is not as expensive to make as the summer blend. In addition, gasoline prices usually fall this time of year because supply and demand dictates lower prices for gas when the summer vacation driving season is over. Finally, competition between gasoline retailers may reduce the pump price.

Experts are predicting an increase tomorrow in the three to five cent a gallon range. The full effects of the $5 billion annual tax increase won’t be felt for a while.

The truth is it will not be this Halloween but possibly Halloween 2018 that will determine if the voters see the gasoline tax increase as a monster to be vanquished or something to be accepted grudgingly—not a treat exactly, but a necessity. That determination will not be made by goblins ringing doorbells but voters casting ballots on a gas tax repeal if an initiative to do so qualifies for the 2018 General Election ballot.

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