With high gasoline prices still troubling Californians at the pump, Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced Monday a legal probe to determine whether oil companies are “rip-off” drivers.
Combined with the highest rate of inflation in four decades, California’s highest national gas prices in the middle of an election year remain a volatile political issue, and Republican lawmakers continue to attack the Legislature’s Democratic leadership for failing to take quick action to help.
Rendon said the assembly’s special committee will consider what actions the state can take to lower gas prices and “stand back against the profiteers who are abusing a historic situation to suck profits from California’s wallets.”
The committee’s hearings are expected to begin in the coming weeks and could last into November.
“It’s no secret that Californians endure financial pain at the pump. Amid global uncertainty, supply chain challenges and COVID, questions are why gas prices are at an unprecedented high with no end in sight,” said Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), who will chair the committee . “California leaders must protect consumers from further harm.”
Republican Convention Chairman James Gallagher called the investigation “another dead-end study.”
Republicans have been pushing for months for a temporary suspension of California’s 51-cent-a-gallon gasoline excise tax, including a small hike planned for July 1, arguing it would give California drivers immediate relief.
Newsom and Democratic lawmakers have rejected the idea.
Rendon said Monday it would cut funding for much-needed infrastructure projects and cost jobs. He added that there was no guarantee oil companies would pass these savings on to drivers.
Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) dismissed that argument, saying other states had already suspended gas taxes and brought immediate relief to drivers. Also on Monday, President Biden said he was considering enacting a federal gas tax holiday to lower gas prices nationwide.
“It’s pretty amazing at what level the gymnastics is [Democratic] The supermajority and the governor here are willing to do anything to avoid the simplest, simplest, most sensible and sane step available to us,” Kiley said. “We have by far the most expensive gas prices in the country, it’s not because the oil companies treat California differently than other states.”
As part of the ongoing budget process, the governor and Democrats continue to negotiate how to ease Californians’ financial woes with a new set of tax refunds.
The Senate and Assembly budget calls for repayments of $10 billion to Californians, with $8 billion for rebates, $1.3 billion for small businesses and nonprofits, and $600 million for Tax credits are provided for the state’s lowest-income residents and workers who pay union dues.
Newsom wants to provide more money in the form of rebates to more Californians. The Governor’s May budget provided $400 for each registered vehicle owner, with a maximum of $800 for anyone owning more than one vehicle. Newsom’s proposed rebates, which would total $11.5 billion, would not include income limits but would exclude vehicles over a certain value. His plan includes an additional $750 million in free or discounted public transportation.
Rendon said the Assembly and Senate are close to reaching an agreement with the governor on the details of the relief package.
The special committee’s investigation into high gas prices follows an earlier investigation Newsom asked the California Energy Commission to conduct in 2019. The commission later published a report that found that the big company’s service stations were charging “higher prices for what appears to be the same product”. and raised the possibility that competing oil companies were engaged in illegal price fixing.
After the report was released, Newsom asked the attorney general to investigate whether California’s top oil and gas suppliers engaged in price fixing or other unfair practices. The status of the investigation is still unclear.
Times contributor Taryn Luna contributed to this report.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-06-20/state-lawmakers-investigate-gas-prices-accuse-oil-companies-ripping-off-californians California lawmakers to investigate steep gas prices