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MENDOCINO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 16: People pump gas into their vehicles at Chevron – Schlafer’s Auto Repair in Mendocino, Calif., on Thursday, June 16, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
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President Joe Biden on Wednesday called on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for the summer, then turned around and asked states to do the same — or find other ways to ease consumers’ pain at the pump from soaring prices.

Biden’s plea adds pressure on California leaders who have rejected a state gas tax holiday and whose proposed alternatives to give some cash rebates back to consumers wouldn’t likely happen until fall at the earliest.

But it was unclear whether a call from a president of their own party would spur Newsom and the Democratically controlled legislature to reconsider suspending the 51-cent a gallon state tax for a few months, as Republican lawmakers have proposed, or at least move quicker on some other kind of relief for drivers who are watching their hard-earned dollars flow into their gas tanks at more than $6 a gallon.

Newsom and Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly dismissed the idea of a state gas tax holiday, arguing there would be no guarantee companies would pass along the savings from the suspended tax to consumers. But a proposed gas tax suspension in California and those enacted in many other states include language that would require the savings to be reflected in pump prices.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Granite Bay, a candidate for Congress whose proposal to suspend California’s gas tax has been gathering dust, said Wednesday that “the evidence shows that gas tax holidays in other states are giving consumers real savings.”

“Even the President is now finally recognizing this is the best way to provide relief to struggling families,” Kiley said in a statement. “Rather than launching a new ‘investigation,’ Governor Newsom and legislative leaders need to immediately suspend our state gas tax, which is almost three times higher than the federal tax.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, hasn’t commented on the subject of gas prices since Monday when he announced a Select Committee on Gasoline Supply and Pricing to explore alleged oil and gas industry profiteering.

On Wednesday, Rendon’s office said only that “the Legislature has proposed a plan to provide relief for consumers through rebates, and they are in active negotiations with the Governor to do so.”

But Golden State motorists may be getting impatient. Retail gasoline prices averaged 6.371 a gallon in California on Wednesday, significantly higher than the $4.955 national average, according to AAA. The state’s auto fuel costs consistently run higher than national prices because California has one of the country’s highest gas taxes and also requires a special gas blend to reduce smog that is not used by other states, limiting supply.

Biden has seen his approval plummet amid missteps in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, baby formula shortages, inflation and soaring gas prices. A Morning Consult poll June 8 found that 58% of voters disapprove of Biden’s job performance, and 39% approve, the lowest mark of his presidency.

Biden wants Congress to suspend the 18.4-cent per gallon federal gas tax for 90 days, although it’s unclear Wednesday that would happen. He also requested that states suspend their own gas taxes, which he said average 30 cents a gallon. California’s 51.1-cent per gallon gasoline tax is set to rise 2.8 cents July 1. Newsom had suggested freezing that increase, but Democratic lawmakers rejected the idea.

Biden rattled off several states that already have suspended their gas taxes or enacted other relief that are helping consumers. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, also a Democrat, signed bipartisan legislation suspending the state’s 25-cent gas tax through at least June.

New York also suspended its 16-cent gas tax June 1 through the end of the year. Illinois froze the state’s 39.2-cent gas tax, which was set to rise 2.4 cents July 1, for the remainder of the year. Colorado postponed a 2-cent per gallon fee that was supposed to kick in July 1 until April 2023.

Maryland suspended its 36.1-cent gas tax from March 18 to April 16, and Georgia lifted its 29.1-cent gas tax from March 18 until May 31. Florida plans to lift its 25.3-cent gas tax from October 1 to October 31.

A University of Pennsylvania report June 15 found that gas tax holidays in Maryland, Georgia and Connecticut “were mostly passed onto consumers at some point during the tax holiday.”

The state’s Democratic lawmakers have been urging an $8 billion plan that would send $200 checks to taxpayers making up to $125,000 through the Franchise Tax Board with an additional $200 for each child or other dependent.

But Newsom has criticized that plan as insufficient and too slow, with relief not arriving until perhaps October. He has proposed having the Department of Motor Vehicles send California motorists $400 for each vehicle they own — up to $800 for two vehicles — which would total $11 billion in rebates. He also has called for grants to allow transit agencies to provide free rides for three months. Newsom has said his proposal could potentially deliver relief some time over the summer.

“Governor Newsom agrees Californians need relief for the rising costs of everyday expenses like gas,” Newsom’s office said Wednesday. “That’s why he’s advocating for immediate, direct payments to California families that are feeling the weight of inflation on everything from gas to groceries.”

Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, who sits on the Assembly’s budget committee, complained Wednesday that the state’s Democratic leaders have allowed oil and gas production that could increase supply and lower prices to wither in California while dithering over pump price relief.

“The frustration I have with what’s going on right now is there’s just a lot of political theater,” Fong said. “Budget negotiations are ongoing. The governor and legislative Democrats concede the fact that speed and immediacy is one of most important criteria to provide relief. But on the other hand, none of their proposals provide immediate relief.”

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