High gas prices have been in the news a lot lately, and consumers all over the country have been demanding that the government do something about it.   In California it’s even worse since prices
here are among the highest in the United States.

So it makes absolutely no sense that there’s a bill under
consideration by the Legislature that would drive gasoline and diesel costs in
California even higher. But AB 638 (Skinner) would do just that.  If passed, this new law would require the
adoption of measures to achieve a dramatic decrease in the use of petroleum
fuels and force significantly higher usage of alternatives.

Studies have concluded that in order to do that the
government would have to impose taxes and fees that would discourage
consumption of the fuels we use every day. 
Suggestions by the California Energy Commission and California Air
Resources Board for these include a 50-cents-per-gallon direct tax on gasoline
and diesel fuel at the pump, pay-at-the-pump auto insurance, a vehicle miles
traveled tax and a fee of thousands of dollars added to the cost of purchasing some
conventionally-fueled vehicles.  The
price tag to consumers?  An estimated
$195 billion over ten years.

One has to ask:  what
planet are these people living on?  In
case they haven’t noticed, families and small and minority-owned businesses are
struggling to make ends meet and rising energy costs are making it even
harder.  These are the folks who would be
least able to afford billions of dollars in higher fuel taxes, since they
typically operate on tight budgets and spend a larger percentage of their
income on energy. 

In the real world, local businesses are having a hard time
keeping their delivery vans and service vehicles on the road, and an even
harder time passing their higher fuel costs along to customers who can’t afford
it.  As it costs more for the gas to get
them to work, people who are lucky enough to have jobs are having to cut back
elsewhere in already-strained family budgets. 

Let’s face it. Driving is not a
luxury.  We need our vehicles to run our
businesses, and get to work, medical care and school.  Small businesses and families alike are
already conserving as much as they can. We can’t afford higher gas taxes designed
to force us to drive less.   We can’t
afford new conventional cars and trucks, let alone expensive alternative-fuel

What’s perhaps most frustrating is that AB 638 is entirely
unnecessary.  An almost identical bill
was passed several years ago, making this new version redundant at best.  And many laws and regulations are already in
effect or on the drawing board to reduce petroleum fuel consumption and
encourage alternatives.  The Pavley
tailpipe emissions standards, the Air Resources Board’s electric car mandate
and low carbon fuel standard, and state and federal subsidies for the purchase
of alternative-fuel vehicles are just a few examples.

But let’s get back to the issue of taxes.  Californians already pay the highest combined
taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel in the country.  AB 638 would widen the gap between what we
pay and the significantly lower burden on consumers in other states even more.

This would be on top of the Governor’s effort to extend the
multi-billion dollar tax increase passed a couple of years ago, and other
legislative proposals to increase taxes and fees on a mind-boggling array of
goods and services.  Enough is enough!

AB 638 is doubtless well-intended.   But those good intentions will lead to
unacceptable burdens on California’s small and minority-owned businesses, and
families who can’t afford billions of dollars in new gas taxes. 

The Legislature might not be able to do much about gas
prices, but it has the power to prevent further pain at the pump from new gas
taxes by voting no on AB 638.